ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 11, 1991
By Steve Newton
Mark McEntee first met Christina Amphlett, his partner in the Divinyls, after seeing her perform in a religious choir at the Sydney Opera House. That’s right—we’re talking about the same Christina Amphlett who melts TV sets everywhere by prancing lewdly and lasciviously stroking herself in the racy video for “I Touch Myself”.
See what religion can do to people!
“She wasn’t doin’ it so much because she’s religious,” McEntee says of the choir thing, “as she did it for voice training. But it was quite funny the first night I saw her sing, because during the performance the choir all had to get up and move to the side of the stage together. And when Christy got up, her microphone cord wrapped around the leg of her stool, so she dragged the stool all the way over to the side with her.
“I met up with her after that, and we formed the band.”
Like most Aussie bands, the Divinyls––at 86 Street on Sunday (July 14)––honed their live show in that most venerable of Australian venues, the pub.
“Every week we used to play this little pub in a place called King’s Cross, which is kind of like the red light district of Sydney. It sort of started off at a hundred people, and the next week it grew to a couple of hundred, and pretty soon we had people spilling out the doors—’cause we were happening at the time. And that’s where Christy learned to put together her stage thing, I suppose, ’cause at first she just used to stand there. She was very shy, but she gradually learned to get it happening.”
Amphlett got something happening enough in the aforementioned video to get it quickly banned in the Divinyls’ native land. The group had also run into trouble with the Aussie censors on a previous tune, 1985’s kinky “Pleasure and Pain”.
“We’ve had trouble with videos right along the line,” sighs McEntee. “They get a bit weird in Australia. I mean they banned the ‘Touch Myself’ video there because of the lyrical content, and yet they played it on the radio, and it was number one! So how do you make sense of that?”
The steamy lyrical approach that keeps getting the Divinyls in hot water Down Under has more to do with Amphlett’s personality than McEntee’s, according to the blond guitarist.
“Collectively we’re sort of attracted to the seamier, darkish side of things,” he admits, “but I’m just more of a musical organizer. Christina is a very sensuous kind of person, so that naturally comes across in what she does.”
The Divinyls have released five albums since forming in 1980, and co-songwriter McEntee—whose own tastes run the gamut from classical music to John Lee Hooker to Deee-Lite—says the band’s sound has evolved quite a bit over the years. “We’ve redefined our sound, matured a little bit, and become a bit more dynamic in our range. I think we’ve learned to write better songs in more diverse areas.”
Famed knob-twiddler David Tickle was brought in to help record the band’s current eponymous release, but the two Divinyls regulars made sure they had a good handle on the studio proceedings themselves.
“We produced this album with him,” emphasizes McEntee. “After making as many records as we have, we’ve learned to take more responsibility for what we do, and to not just leave it blindly in the hands of someone who says that they can come along and produce our record, ’cause it is our record. So you’ve gotta know what’s happening every inch of the way.
“But David arranged everything in a manner whereby it was good to hear, I think. And he got a good dynamic sound on Christy’s voice.”
Amphlett’s hot-blooded, breathy vocals certainly heat up a number of tunes on the album, especially stand-out tracks such as “Love School”, “Lay Your Body Down”, and “Bullet”. The tunes cover a wide range of pop styles, but the main lyrical concern always seems to end up being the beast with two backs. The band’s preoccupation with sex—and the suggestive video interplay between McEntee and Amphlett—leads one to wonder whether their relationship involves more than the platonic writing of songs.
But get your mind out of the gutter.
“Our relationship is intellectually based,” says McEntee. “We didn’t even get on for the first three years. But since then—with playing all the time and just being able to stay together—we’ve gradually learned respect for one another.”