Combining the vocal and songwriting talents of three of Australia’s most notable artists, Seeker Lover Keeper is the outcome of one very natural process. Legend has it that Sarah Blasko, Holly Throsby and Sally Seltmann convened at a bar in Sydney’s creative Newtown area, had a bit to drink, and the band was born. Each member auspiciously released her debut album in 2004, their ascending lines of national success running in parallel with each other ever since. But while each of them is now virtually a household name in Australia, beyond those Antipodean shores it is primarily Seltmann’s by-proxy global influence that surfaces as co-author of Feist’s hit single ‘1 2 3 4’ (originally called ‘Sally’s Song’).
For all its naturalistic genesis, Seeker Lover Keeper is really quite an exception in music, particularly when accounting for the shifting dynamics and potential for tension with collaborations numbered three – not to mention the fact that these are all established solo artists accustomed to having their own way. But, like Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt’s less inventively named Trio, in surrendering their individual creative processes and relinquishing control to the greater good of the clan, the women find common ground in honest songwriting and mutual respect for this self-titled debut and potential one-off.
Recorded on neutral ground in New York City, mostly live and over a meagre ten days, there’s a sense that Blasko, Throsby and Seltmann strove to establish a level playing field, and album closer ‘Rest Your Head On My Shoulder’ offers a Kate & Anna McGarrigle-type afterword attesting to that collaborative intent. It is telling, though, that in writing and reconfiguring their tracks with each other’s creative and vocal nuances in mind, only four of the twelve songs on the album are led by someone other than the person who penned it in the first place. And funnily enough, it is those songs that are Seeker Lover Keeper‘s strongest.
Blasko offers her distinctly impish delivery to Throsby’s ‘Rely On Me’, while the powerfully earnest Throsby transforms Seltmann’s typically elegant, ultra-feminine songwriting into a rootsy anthem to female independence with ‘Even Though I’m A Woman’. Blasko’s ‘On My Own’ offers a rare opportunity for Seltmann’s diffident vocal style to resonate in a naturally downtempo habitat, instilling it with the thrill of her classically unconventional cadence. Beyond these, though, too many songs come across as filler, with the rhythmic urgency of Blasko’s ‘Theme I’ being one of the few personalised standouts.
Across the album, it seems like the prominence of each member’s voice matches their disposition: Seltmann’s ethereal vocal for the most part lingers in the background, while Blasko – known for her live theatrics and eccentricities – takes the lead on five tracks, at the behest of the band members themselves. When Seltmann does take a rare lead, she wavers nervously under the pressure of songs like ‘Every Time’, a song she wrote aged eighteen during an audibly present, ’90s PJ Harvey-influenced stage of stylistic development.
In featuring three such well known individuals, Seeker Lover Keeper begs a deconstruction of each of its songs – who wrote them, who performed them and how all these equally familiar elements bleed into one another to create something entirely different. That exercise aside, other than a handful of brilliant exceptions the album is less a work distilled in a vacuum of creative freedom and more a sum of its parts. But then, had there been more focus on consciously reprogramming the combined talents of Blasko, Throsby and Seltmann to form a single entity, their strengths might be diluted, with the album ending up sounding contrived.
Conversely, it might be that the creative conflict that goes wanting in this wholly amicable working relationship is what could have led to a more exciting, adventurous collaboration in the first place.
[Dew Process/Universal; UK release TBC]