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Good Humour

3 1/2 stars out of 5

by David Messer - Australian Rolling Stone, February 1991 (issue #454)

Why is it that sad, down-beat songs can often be so uplifting? That was definitely the case with Lovetown, Stephen Cummings 1988 masterpiece. Since then, Cummings has begun to mix these with more uptempo numbers. We can only be happy for Cummings if his life has taken a turn for the better. But one can't help believing that for his listeners's sakes, Cummings was, as Willie Nelson once sung, "born to lose", or at least born to lament.

Good Humour is a crucial album for the artist. Following on the heels of last year's ARIA award winning A New Kind Of Blue it is Cummings's best chance, since the Sports, of achieving real success. With this in mind he has opted for a record that mixes commercial and contemporary sounds along with his trademark depression and introspection - one half is dance music, the other, ballads.

Now Cummings has flirted with dance music before, on the ill-fated Senso, so he can't be accused of jumping the dance bandwagon. But for me at least, the songs generally don't have the groove. The psychedelic wah-wah guitar on "Stand Up" and the rapping on "I Call This Living" sound too trendy. On "Hell (You Put Me Through)" and Sly Stone's "Family Affair", however the music is more convincing. The former could well be an anthem for our times, while the latter achieves a tasty, Prince-like, light funk feel, circa "Kiss".

That said, there are enough good songs on Good Humour to make it a strong record. "Blue Hour" is possibly the best song Cummings has ever written. Accompanied only by some sparse piano, the subtleties of his voice and lyrics come to the fore. Cummings has the very rare ability to sing quietly, with passion, and here he has the space to do so. It indicates where his voice is best suited. Other highlights include "Two or Three Things" and "Don't Look for Trouble", where he manages to sound like Van Morrison without being in any way imitative.

In "Blue Hour", Cummings sings that "My luck has turned, everything lost has come back to me, (but that) sometimes it gets a little lonely, my mood turns a little sour...before night becomes light, that's the blue hour". Cummings is attempting to strike a balance between these two moods, like so many great ballad singers before him, his tears can so often be our joy.

Good Humour

by Toby Creswell - Australian Rolling Stone 1991 yearbook (issue #465)

Cummings re-entered the charts after a seven year hiatus with the dance single "Hell", which anticipated the Melbourne songwriter's best, and most eclectic, album. Cummings documented love's downside better than anybody over thirty. "Blue Hour" with it's loquacious melancholic piano from Chris Abrahams, has a drama that was missing from so many releases this year. Tracks like "I Call This Living" and "Don't Look for Trouble" saw Cummings' usual elegant despair turn to wry acceptance ("The more I know/The less I understand"). Cummings talent lies in his ironic view of relationships between men and women as essentially unworkable and yet he never succumbs to cynicism, his belief in romance never falters ("There's no mistake/We are born and we suffer/And there's just/Two or three things I know about her"). On this album he incorporated dance feels, recalling his first solo album Senso, using I'm Talking's Robert Goodge (aka Filthy Lucre) as co-producer on "Stand Up" (which was inexplicable not a single) and "Hell" and the year's most popular cover, Sly's "Family Affair". Backing from Rebecca Barnard and guitarist/co-producer Shane O'Mara provides flexibility and inspiration with inflections of jazz and R&B that distinguishes Cummings from the folk-singing pack.

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