Jean-Paul Sartre Experience – Jean-Paul Sartre Experience

1994 / 2003 Reissue, Flying Nun, FNCD078

With Flying Nun reissuing a number of their long out-of-print release, it was about time the boys from Jean-Paul Sartre Experience saw the light of day again. Their early discography is as follows: they released a self-titled EP, then followed it up with a mini-album entitled Love Songs.

These were then released as a cumulative album, which was initially also named love songs, and then expanded and changed to the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience, just to confuse archivists. The end result is quite a collection of genuine pop-classics, and was the moment in time when the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience was really hitting their stride.

The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience (later shorted to JPS Experience or JPSE due to legal hassle’s with Sartre’s estate) was formed in Christchurch in the mid-80’s and immediately set about creating a suite of songs that tread the line between charmingly naive love songs (‘Let there be love’), upbeat sing-a-longs (‘I like rain’) and even kooky, disjointed attempts at white-bred rap (‘Crap-rap’).

Both blessed and cursed with all 4 members being songwriters (with Dave Mulcahy, Jim Laing and Dave Yetton all providing both guitar and vocals) their songs were fresh, invigorating and stylistically scattered in these, the early years.

Eventually the band would split after years of tightening their formula until things just weren’t fun anymore (their last album, the wildly uneven and downbeat bleeding star). Mulcahy then launched the brilliant, larger than life, and unfortunately short-lived Superette, eventually going solo. Yetton created his own ‘sissy-pop’ project – The Stereo Bus which eventually grew out of its humble solo beginnings to be a very popular 5-piece. And lastly their drummer Gary Sullivan (who often took the back stage in JPS Experience’s career) formed the acclaimed, but commercially ignored scuzz-rockers Solid Gold Hell.

Dave Yetton had a penchant for creating what he freely admitted was girly pop – soppy love songs and silly, carefree lyrics. Mulcahy acted as the ever-vigilant older brother with tracks like ‘Firetime’, adding structure to result in a perfect balance of playful melodies and sobering lyrics. Their songs were playful, yet intelligent (‘Flex’), reflective, but upbeat (‘Grey parade’) – you’d expect with such a clash of idea’s the songs would fail to gel, but luckily Jean-Paul Sartre Experience is one of those releases that exceeded all expectations.

‘Loving grapevine’ is perhaps the most perfect example of how their songs worked so well. Jim Laing’s demented, gleeful vocals are so exuberant you can’t help but think how much fun they had recording the album. A relatively straightforward pop number, the song is highlighted by cheery backing vocals – when the guitar solo strikes mid-song, it almost seems out of place.

In fact, the vocals are the most distinctive element of the album, three vocalists perusing a myriad of approaches add up to an awful lot of styles. Even the more serious numbers (‘Transatlantic love song’) seem characteristic when accompanied by such out and out fun numbers as ‘Jabberwocky’ and ‘Let there be love’.

The instrumentation is brilliantly suited though too, particularly Sullivan’s drumming which seems to drive the seriousness of the songs — the more fun and over-the-top the songs, the more disjointed and playful the rhythm. For an album with no credited bassist, their sure are some catchy grooves too – particularly the slowly building ‘Jabberwocky’. It rolls and rolls as the song grows and grows, building tension and allowing ragtime piano and guitars to float in.

Follow that up with the funky, disjointed slop-hop sing-a-long ‘Crap rap’ (trust me, it’s a lot better than it sounds) with bass that pops and grooves in an ultimately impressive fashion (considering the pedigree of these four white southern boys).

I would challenge any lover of pop to come away from this album without at least one favorite. I mean, who could resist the ever-charming ‘I like rain’ and it’s Casio-tone melody? These are the kind of songs Chris Knox would have been making if he weren’t such a crotchety old bastard. High recommended for days inside, days at the beach, days spent snuggle with loved ones, or nights spent partying.

At their peak in the mid to late 80’s, JPS Experience were considered one of the finest and most popular bands in New Zealand, along with their noisy neighbors The Headless Chickens and The Straitjacket Fitz. This album is the perfect document of the cheery, upbeat side of classic New Zealand pop, and a firm addition to Flying Nun’s current catalog of reissues.

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