Crow were one of the less conventional breed of guitar bands that existed in Sydney during the final days of the 1980s. They were arty and atonal, angular and angry, ditching melody and other safe musical harbours in search of artistic adventure.
Formed by brothers Peter and John Fenton in their hometown of Canberra, they moved to Sydney, eventually acquiring guitarist/lyricist Peter Archer and bassist Jim Wolff. An EP (Sunburnt Throats and Happy Thunderclouds) and a single (“Confection/Ravine”) were put out on the Phantom Records label in 1990 and 1991. Neither release seemed to capture the chaotic spirit of the band and after being a regular sight on the Darlinghurst/Surry Hills/Newtown circuits, they played what would turn out to be premature farewell show at the Annandale Hotel. Nic Dalton’s Half-a-Cow records persuaded them to reconsider, offering a deal and some money to go off and record their debut album. The band then saddled up their gift horse and decamped to the States.
The sessions which produced “Railhead” were helmed by music purist and Big Black frontman Steve Albini in his Chicago studio in September 1992. The sessions weren’t the positive experience the band had hoped for, expecting a little more from Albini than someone to position the microphones and hit record. The album that would ironically be titled My Kind of Pain was championed upon release by critics, going as far as gaining an ARIA nomination in 1993 for best record, but it failed to make any headway into the charts, a proposition which would seem outlandish at best, but admirable if you were to ever throw the album on and take stock. Crow weren’t a band destined to see their name in lights, but this shouldn’t detract from the charm of the underdog. My Kind of Pain was worthy of the plaudits and stands up as being one of the classic Australian albums released during the 1990s.
Although Crow was (and would continue till to be till their final days) led by lyricist/guitarist/future actor Peter Fenton, “Railhead” curiously enough was a Peter Archer tune. Actually, looking at the writing credits on My Kind of Pain all my favourite songs on this album are Peter Archer songs. I always considered Fenton as the main songwriter of the band, and he definitely led a charismatic front, but Archer was clearly their wild card. It should be made clear that “Railhead” is in no way the defining Crow anthem, but more a snapshot of the band hitting their stride. The lyrics speak of Sydney inner-city life. Drinking during the hot nights, walking home along the train tracks as the noise of the early morning traffic shatter the quiet. The rumbling bass and the seagull squall of the electric guitar sit in perfect alignment with his words. Archer’s final declaration “and the beer just makes me sleepy” leaves me with a smile. Any song that reminds you of home without dropping it squarely in your face is something to treasure.