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The Failure of Significant Success

interview by C.F. Henry, from X-Press magazine, 21 July 1994

If anyone knows about critical acclaim, and just how much it means, it's Stephen Cummings, the lead singer of the Sports and solo artist for past decade.

Cummings' inventive and often groundbreaking work has led many a critic to gush to the point of embarrassment, but when it comes to album sales, the figures do not match the so-called experts enthusiasm.

Paradoxically, his status among the critics, and their perception that he was the prince of cool, basically forced him to a most 'unhip' thing: a voice over on the Medibank Private advertisement which he admits he had to do to pay the bills.

That's the failure of significant success.

Stephen Cummings' new album, Falling Swinger, marks the first time he has made an album with a producer, The Church's Steve Kilbey, himself no stranger to being lauded by the media.

On Falling Swinger, Cummings, 40-years-old, has again changed musical position and reverted to a more subdued and plaintive style, using acoustic guitar as an overriding influence and not a keyboard as has been the case with releases such as Senso.

According to Cummings, the album "covers the blurred incidents; the fuzzy, grimly ironic character of everyday life".

It's quite evident on Falling Swinger that Steve Kilbey's influence was felt. But I believe prior to you recording the album, you'd never met?

The new album is quite radically different from other material you've released over the last 10 years. It was surprising in a way. Where did the inspiration come from? But so radically, that was what I found surprising. I mean, at times you have to ask yourself: 'Is this really a Stephen Cummings record I'm listening to?' Do you think it's a natural musical progression, or did you make a conscious decision to change tack? Apparently you were rather shocked when Kilbey admitted his favourite rock album was All Things Must Pass by George Harrison. Is this right? Did you and Steve get on well together? Different year? How old are you? How do you find working in Sydney, as opposed to your beloved Melbourne? I've always thought of you as quintessentially Melbourne... If you accept that the music industry is a 'young person's game', do you ever get to the stage where you think: 'Oh to hell with it, I'm going to do something else'? Standards of behaviour, standards of business...? Do you mean you need a few bucks? Which leads on to critical acclaim...something you've had a lot of. I noticed that Juice Magazine gave Falling Swinger four and a half stars out of a possible five. You must have gotten to the stage where you see a glowing review and say: 'Oh no, a good review...that means we won't sell any.' Is that fair to say? Does the opposite equally apply? What? They really come up to you and say 'hey mate, I hate that record, I reckon it's crap', or words to that effect? What would be some examples of this behaviour? Well, it was worth a try... Life? Some artists are getting very self deprecating in their titles, or tongue in cheek. Why the title Falling Swinger? Turning to the news - I've always wanted to say that - we have reports that both Skyhooks and Daddy Cool have reformed. Is this true? Crikey. What do you think of these reformations? What are your touring plans? You might have to do another ad? Any on offer?
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