October ’07 – I am going through a phase of having to ration my intake of The Roches. I don’t usually ration music, because I (sadly) know myself well enough to realise that I go through passionate fads that come to their end simply by being usurped the next month by the next passion. So I reason, “Why hold back? Devour it while I have the appetite for it!” But The Roches are different…not because I am fooling myself that I have found a passion that might last forever, but, rather, because The Roches could be justifiable grounds for my flatmates to stage a walk-out. My sympathy would be with Janet and Stella if they marched in with their hands over their ears, crying, “As if it wasn’t enough that you practise your songs ad nauseum (FYI, even when you close your bedroom door, we can still hear everything – EVERYTHING), but now this? It’s too much!” The fact is, three-part harmonies are simply in a different solar-system to two-part harmonies. In the two-part harmony solar-system, couples skip hand-in-hand through beflowered meadows. In the three-part harmony solar-system, conjunctions exist that beggar belief (stop! Don’t even try to imagine it! You might see something that you don’t want to see – and that you’ll never get out of your mind).
The first song that piqued my interest was ‘Runs In The Family’. “I’ve never heard of The Roach Sisters,” I said. “Oh! Well, you have a treat in store.” I was a treat-hoarder in my early youth, but no longer, so I tracked down their first album and loved it. When I saw another album, ‘Nurds’, in a two-dollar milk-crate at the Glebe Record Fair, I bought that one, too. Their harmonies might be their distinguishing feature, but their song ideas and lyrics come from another solar-system, too. At first, I feared that the sisters were just too silly (for example, the song sung by the woman who runs the laundromat where Suzzy Roche washes her stinky, crusty socks; or the one where the singer is a chocolate bar and her addressee is a bag of soybeans), but it didn’t take long to learn their language. Now my current favourite is ‘ONE SEASON’, where the harmonies go so dreadfully awry in the third verse that even Steve Reich might be envious. I like the line, “I am the only tree, and everybody leaves.” I imagine that it would be hard to bring heartfelt, diary-esque material to your two sisters…wouldn’t they (at best) be stifling sniggers as you unveiled your earnest, new song to them? It makes sense that the songs’ painful hearts are disguised as witticisms, similes and wordplays; decoys that would distract the other sisters long enough for the wound to heal…a year or so later, they might say, “I just realised! This song’s about that bloke you were seeing - the one who didn’t leave his wife after all.” By then, the songwriter would be capable of asking breezily, “Which one was that?”