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"Oh God, I've written so many songs. Maybe I should do something else."

He is a performer who is so uncomfortable with playing live that he rarely opens his eyes. He is a musician who thought his first album would be more successful if he kept his involvement to a minimum. He is an artist who has been known to write advertising jingles when faced with large telephone bills.

It seems unlikely then that Stephen Cummings could be anything but a singer/songwriter. It would almost be unthinkable that he would have ever done anything as brash as front a punk/pop band like The Sports, who achieved some international success in the late 70s as they toured relentlessly. But anyone familiar with the solo work of this Melbourne-based musician would know that Cummings is not your average Australian performer, and his fans will quickly remind you just how much critical acclaim has been heaped on the handful of recordings bearing his name.

Although recognised primarily as lead vocalist with The Sports, Cummings was perhaps more important to that band as their key songwriter. The vast majority of their original output came via his collaborations with guitarists Martin Armiger and Andrew Pendlebury, including their most successful song, "Who Listens To The Radio".

After the breakup of The Sports in 1981, Cummings, Armiger and Pendlebury soon found themselves together again, working on Cummings' first solo album Senso with Armiger taking up the role of producer. Released in 1984, their efforts immediately hit paydirt with the effervescent single Gymnasium reaching the top 5 on the Australian charts.

With the less successful This Wonderful Life, Cummings began to find his own distinctive voice, the writing more assured, his own musical ideas coming to the fore (on songs like In Siege of Robert Mitchum).

With only his third album, Cummings perfectly realised his vision. Although it sold poorly, Lovetown won unanimous and unqualified praise from the critics, who hailed it as an instant classic. His deft lyrics explored the traumas and joy of everyday relationships with intelligence, humour and heart. The simple but effortless pop sound worked flawlessly with his smooth and assured vocals. The direct emotional impact of songs like She Set Fire To The House was unquestionable.

The expectations that were then placed on 1988's A New Kind Of Blue were understandably high, but no one could accuse the album of being a step backward. Mining the same, rich vein of gorgeous pop with an increased exploration of acoustic based material, he again won widespread praise. This time, the album earned him three ARIA (Australian Record Industry Association) award nominations. He subsequently won the award for Best Adult Contemporary album, but in accepting the award said simply "I think Nick Cave deserves this more than I do".

With all of the attention being turned on his work (by the critics, if not the record buying public), it seemed time to try harnessing his higher profile. With this in mind, 1990's Good Humour saw Cummings again exploring the possibilities of dance music a la Gymnasium. The lead single Hell managed to crack the top forty but the album seemed a little too eclectic to win mainstream acceptance. That's not to say the album was lacking in great songs: in the eloquent resignation of Blue Hour it featured one of his finest songs to date.

For all the time and effort that had gone into Good Humour, it was understandable that Cummings was disappointed by its lack of success. In response, 1992's Unguided Tour was recorded cheaply in only seven days, with most of the songs recorded live in the studio on the third or fourth take. The record was undeniably austere, but featured some of his best lyrics yet. Again the music critics showered it with praise, vainly hoping that this would help turn his talent into deserving sales.

Having tackled both dance and acoustic pop on his last two recordings, it was not clear just where Cummings would head from there. Talk of him quitting the music industry altogether began to appear, but with 1994's Falling Swinger, it became clear that such a move would have amounted to a national tragedy.

Produced by Steve Kilbey of The Church, the album married full production to the often awkward idiosyncracies of Cummings own approach without sacrificing his artistic integrity. Some labelled it the best album he had ever made (some also described it as the best album Kilbey had ever made). Whilst it was no less eclectic than Good Humour, the album somehow managed an impressive consistency amongst bouncing walls of sound (The Big Room), luscious pop (White Noise), stately drama (Fell From A Great Height) and acoustic bliss (What The Eyes Have Made Welcome).

Yet again, success was elusive. Although he and Kilbey tried again with 1996's Escapist, it seemed like Cummings attentions were elsewhere - indeed, that year saw the release of his first novel, "Wonderboy" to mixed reactions.

Nevertheless, Cummings still has a lot to offer, as demonstrated by the lowkey group project More of Her. A type of informal supergroup going under the name Four Hours Sleep, Cummings assumed responsibility for all lyrics whilst bass player Bill McDonald handled production and all other songwriting duties. Angie Hart (Frente), Edwyn Collins and David McComb (The Triffids) contributed vocals to the album, as did Cummings himself. Free of the expectations that now accompany work issued under his own name, that album was full of the quirky, effortless pop that is his specialty.

His fan base is small but nevertheless he has loyal fans throughout the world, due to occasional shows in Europe and North America. It may be that his occasional involvement with international artists such as Edwyn Collins and Toni Childs (she appeared on a duet version of Fell From A Great Height) will yet somehow facilitate some degree of public acceptance to match his critical success.

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