It’s not uncommon to link a song or artist with a person, place, thing or memory. Music plays a massive role in association throughout your life, whether it be through a good or bad memory and experience. For me, since first hearing Babe Rainbow during their “Secret Enchanted Broccoli Forest” era, every time I hear the Byron Bay band I always think of sunburn and the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. And honestly, since listening through their new album Changing Colours, this association continues to be ever-present. Let me explain.
The first time I saw the band live was at Laneway Festival. It was a bullshit hot summer day in Sydney, and pale redhead me was doing his best to deprive my skin of its natural affinity for the sun. Lathered up in SPF50, I did my best to hide in the shade of the main stages as Babe Rainbow bounded onto the stage. Playing a killer set, the festival was off to a good start, only to be brought crashing down when I realised while on my way home I’d missed a spot with the sunscreen and was red raw for the better part of two weeks.
The other association came in the form of a truly cooked conversation one morning at Splendour in the Grass, as my mate wondered whether the Oompa Loompa’s from the Chocolate Factory would be a good backing band for a variety of acts on the lineup; Babe Rainbow included. Literally every time I listen to Babe Rainbow now, all I picture is Oompa Loompas shovelling sugar.
I guess what I’m saying is that irrespective of the situation, Babe Rainbow will generally come through with the goods. With their first three albums not straying too far stylistically from each other, Changing Colours is a subtle step sideways for the band as they explore a more fulfilled and while it might sound impossible, a more wholesome sound. Starting the album off with an impossibly strong front third, it’s pretty obvious from the get-go that Babe Rainbow has stepped things up a notch on their fourth album.
Opening song and leading single “Zeitgeist” is a subtle and summery track about growing up and chasing dreams, with the clouded vocals of Angus Dowling embedding themselves deeply into your ears. A sneaky and sweet guest spot from Jaden Smith on “Your Imagination” harks back to and is a little reminiscent of the Gene Wilder sung “Pure Imagination” (I promise this is the last Roald Dahl reference for the review). It’s an easy moment early in the album that will act as the lullaby to your first child’s restless nights. Definitely a surprise collaboration, Jaden’s spoken vocal is set so far apart from the song’s main lyrics that it works way too well.
A contender for best bass line of 2021, “Ready for Tomorrow” is the best and most fun song on Changing Colours. If it doesn’t leave you uncontrollably bopping your head along as you type out a mundane business report at your desk (I may or may not have been doing this), then I’m sorry, but you’re definitely missing out; on a great song, not a 5000-word report. Moving into the middle third of the album, the funk-driven “Rainbow Rock” could well prove to become a fan and band favourite in live settings. With a sweet hoedown of sorts in the bridge, it’s uncontrollably and infectiously fun from start to finish. Taking things a little Americana on “New Zealand Spinach”, Babe Rainbow indulge the guitar licks here, more so than they do on any other song on Changing Colours.
A dreamy and pure band from the earliest of singles, Babe Rainbow’s evolution has been as organic and unadulterated as a band could hope to have. The closing third of the album is toned down ever so slightly and lacks any really punchy moments that set it apart. This isn’t a negative thing, and more or less shows the album is well-weighted and paced throughout. The charming “Thinking Like a River” is humble and great, while “Smile” tells the tale of someone returning to their love after a time away. It’s a song of hope and grandeur and fits perfectly as the second to last song on Changing Colours.
Closing out on the entirely instrumental and titular “Changing Colours”, it’s a fun little ditty for Babe Rainbow to bring everything to a close on. It feels like the band is having fun on the song, and this feeling transfers into the listener, as they’re left with a wholesome glow and bounce before exiting the album’s listening experience.
Changing Colours isn’t a complete album, but nothing ever really is. It may or may not leave you connected to a certain moment in time, but here’s hoping if it does, that moment is as joyous and fun as the album is.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Changing Colours is out Friday 14 May.
Header image credit: Maclay Heriot