Every agony has its equal and opposite ecstasy; pleasure to pain, nectar to brine, feather to leather — and all are held in the belly of the beautiful beast that is Confidence Man. Ponytails higher than the heavens and moxie turned up to the max, indomitable force of the cosmos Janet Planet, cavorter-in-chief Sugar Bones and their enigmatic, beatmaking bandmates Clarence McGuffie and Reggie Goodchild are life’s sublime push and pull poured into hotpants, primping, pumping and bumping their way (and yours) to a god damn good time.
Like 2018’s Confident Music for Confident People, the Melbourne foursome’s second album was always going to be self-penned and produced — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — but also called for a fresh approach; a reangling of perspective. Partially inspired by time spent hanging out in the studio with certified Con Man fans Gregg Alexander [of New Radicals], Simon Carmody and U2 producer Andy Barlow, TILT is built on a newfound philosophy: Think less, do more. “Gregg would suddenly lay down verse, chorus, the whole song, and it was all off the top of his head” explains Janet. “We realised: we’ve been thinking about things too much, we just need to go off the cuff.”
This drive towards the impromptu, combined with the band’s unerring commitment to the party lifestyle, culminated in a decidedly Confidence Man approach to writing an album; “Drinking and singing around a crappy microphone with bluetooth speakers at 5 o’clock in the morning”, squabbling over the mic to try their improvisations on for size. Janet laughs: “A lot of those songs turned out to be really good, and they shouldn’t have, probably”. Mix engineer Ewan Pearson [Jagwar Ma, Pet Shop Boys, Jessie Ware, and Confident Music…] concurred: when first single ‘Holiday’ slipped out of the collective conscious and straight into his inbox, he was hooked, and immediately blocked out a week of studio time to give it his full and undivided attention.
A distinctly no-frills home recording setup — combined with a readily imbibed, heady mix of Grace Jones, Madonna, The Chemical Brothers, Deee-lite, 90s runway music and archive footage of raves — resulted in a sleeker, sexier new era of Confidence Man. TILT simultaneously thrums with the electric energies of the club, the NYC ballroom and the warehouse; uniting dancefloors across time and space. It is the sound of the band testing, stretching and moulding; defining and redefining their parameters, “Wanting to push the boundaries of what Con Man could sound like” as Sugar puts it, “To take it to another dimension.”
Nowhere is this new outlook more apparent than on the aptly titled ‘Feels Like a Different Thing’, a maximalist revelation filled with big beats, even bigger choral interludes, and the age-old directive to work ya damn body HARD. Irresistible pop hooks lurk under cowbells and ingenious self-samples (‘What I Like’), UK garage-reminiscent vocals about hot, butter-slathered bodies and butt-shaking for pay (Janet-appointed “J-Lo slut-jam” ‘Toy Boy’) and hearts that beat in Balearic arrhythmia (‘Luvin U is Easy’). Steely anthems about living it up on the go as international party icons (‘Holiday’) melt into loose-lipped, Latin-infused under-a-minuiters (‘Kiss N Tell’), hypnotic eroticas (‘Push It Up’) and undulating, brassy instrumentals (‘Trumpet Song’) that confirm Clarence and Reggie’s fingers are never off the pulse.
For all its posing and posturing, TILT’s change of perspective also provides a glimpse of hidden depths. I’m a woman of many words, but words do not define me, says Janet on ‘Woman’, continuing: This is my house, the house that I built with my own two hands, and if I so desire, I will burn it down. On ‘Angry Girl’, she kicks and screams out her frustrations, gnashing her teeth (All I see is red, off the chain, off the meds) and on ‘Break It Bought It’ she once again asserts ownership, reminding us exactly where we are and who’s in charge (You’re in my house, so keep your hands to yourself). “I want to be taken seriously” she reflects, “…to a point. But I never want to be actually taken seriously. I like tricking people into thinking you’re one thing and then pulling the rug out.” Indeed, for every defiant meeting of the listener’s gaze; every dare to underestimate, there’s a wisecrack or double entendre waiting in the wings. Pardonnez mon français she sings on ‘Relieve the Pressure’, a song written almost entirely in deliberately mistranslated French idioms (“French people are gunna hate it. I can’t wait.”) Living life on the wild side just like a bear, we’re alive, we’re just animals with beautiful hair sings Sugar on ‘What I Like’ while Janet grrrrs in the background. All hangs in delicate and perfect balance; the rough with the smooth, the silly with the sincere.
As echoed by Bráulio Amado’s slick album artwork, here is nuanced pop stardom in glorious supersaturation; this latest offering more Confidence Man than ever before. It is, you might say, Confidence Man at full tilt.
Words: Diva Harris, November 2021