Author: Bruce Jenkins  Date Posted:31 May 2024 


A light plane flies down the West Australian coast, heading south from Perth. Over the Indian Ocean but looking towards the great dry continent stretching endlessly east, a photographer focusses and shoots a few frames of an estuary; a patchwork of sand, water and wheat-brown earth, tiny clusters of buildings huddling together as if fearful of the overpowering light and space. The town, if you could call it that, is Mandurah. The year is 1961. The image graces the cover of one of the finest albums by an Australian artist, The Triffids’ Born Sandy Devotional.

Recorded in London during 1985, songwriter David McComb had a clear creative vision for the Triffids second long-player. The songs should be written for the album, he said, not 'a hotchpotch of historically compiled songs’1. There are lyrical themes that weave in and out of the songs. Wandering, journeys, emotional displacement, fidelity, relationships, despair. It sounds almost gothic, summarised like that. And indeed there are echoes of Nick Cave, master of Australian Gothic, particularly in "Lonely Stretch", though more in the text than the sound. Musically this is a band who exemplify the 'tight but loose' description, able to interpret McComb’s compositions with understated strength. It is an LP recorded in London, encoded with the air of their homeland.

"The Seabirds" provides a striking opening. A bleak tale of suicide by drowning, it is dramatic and elusive like fragments of a short story. Musically, the country/folk-rock clout grabs your attention from the off, with pedal steel guitar and subtle strings underscoring the cinematic feel. Following this with another seaside song is brilliant and shows the care that went into all aspects of the album. "Estuary Bed" has some of the obtuse imagery McComb is so fond of yet there is a warmth and invitation that brings a sweetness to the unrequited love, underpinned by vibes and organ. It is an album highlight.

Another highpoint is "Wide Open Road", which begins side two. Here, a yearned for intimacy meet the breathtaking emptiness of the Australian landscape… a life without attachments is both liberating and desperately sad.

Born Sandy Devotional—the title coming from an unfinished song that did not make the LP—closes with the F. Scott Fitzgerald inspired "Tender Is The Night", with vocals by keyboard player Jill Birt. There is a naive, almost nursery rhyme quality that drifts into a wistful ambience; it’s hard to not to think of Maureen Tucker singing for the Velvet Underground. Then, unassumingly, McComb’s voice joins. Is this a cautious connection, despite all the hurt?

It’s getting dark earlier now

But where you are it’s just getting light

Critics in the UK loved Born Sandy Devotional. NME called it "a masterpiece", Melody Maker "a classic"2. The Allmusic Guide claims this is McComb’s "most accomplished work" from a "tragically short career."3 Closer to home, the 2010 coffee table tome The 100 Best Australian Albums not only included BSD, but ranked it at #5 behind heavy hitters like AC/DC and Midnight Oil. The top ten, they claimed, were all "big, ground breaking, game changing albums". That it received such accolades both at the time of release and twenty-five years later says much about the depth of the work. It endures.

The Mandurah of the cover image has long gone, erased by urban sprawl and a ravenous hunger for beachside property amongst aspirational Western Australians. A comparison to Queensland’s Gold Coast is telling; steel and glass where there was once open space and sand dunes. David McComb is gone too, dead before his thirty-seventh birthday. Years of substance abuse, a heart transplant, and the impact of heroin were noted by the coroner.

At the heart of Born Sandy Devotional lies a persistent melancholy. There is intimacy and distance, clear air and suffocating loneliness, beauty and loss. It absolutely deserves its place in the pantheon of Australian rock albums.



  1. John O’Donnell, Toby Cresswell & Craig Mathieson (2010). The 100 Best Australian Albums. Hardie Grant Books, Australia.
  2. The Triffids web site. Accessed 29 May 2024.
  3. Wilson Neate. Born Sandy Devotional Review. Allmusic Guide, accessed 29 May 2024.

© Bruce Jenkins - May 2024

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