Almanac Music – Aussie album review: The Triffids ‘Born Sandy Devotional’


One of the occasional rays of sunshine in lock-down has been the time that isolation has afforded me to revisit albums that have gathered dust on the shelf for months, or even years. One such album is Born Sandy Devotional,  The Triffids’ 1986 classic. Of course, this record holds an exalted place in the Australian music pantheon, revered by critics and musicians alike. It was featured in a 2007 episode of the ABC’s Great Australian Albums series and was ranked #5 in the book The 100 Best Australian Albums (2010). Re-acquainting myself with this fabulous album, and re-affirming its majesty, has been revelatory – for a second time.


From the opening bars of The Seabirds, with Robert McComb’s violin front and centre, B S D has a sense of grandeur. Without any fanfare, David McComb’s lyrics instantly envelope us – ‘No foreign pair of dark sunglasses/ Will ever shield you from the light’ – and they hold us in their grip for the entirety of the ten tracks. Much has been made of the fact that the Triffids recorded this very Australian sounding album in England, and references to the sea and the breadth of this country do abound. But I regard it first and foremost as a collection of stories about relationships, mostly troubled and dark. And sure, there are highs and lows, but it is mostly peaks upon which to feast your ears and concentrate your minds. This album is at once both distinctly Australian in feel, but yet universal in appeal.


The range of themes is as vast as the landscapes which the lyrics describe. There is the eerie suicide note Tarrilup Bridge in which Jill Birt’s girlish vocals (foreshadowing the likes of Julia Stone by a generation) tell the tale of how she ‘left a note on the fridge’ and drove off a bridge; the crazy Chicken Killer (‘My 20/20 vision 95 percent dim’); the soaring, reflective Estuary Bed. Graham Lee’s pedal and lap steel guitars are prominent throughout, and along with the aforementioned strings, the album is gifted with a unique sonic feel


It goes without saying, that no review of Born Sandy Devotional could fail to mention the haunting Wide Open Road which opens side two on the record. It is epic in its breadth and imagination. In four minutes, the track captures a mixture of loss, regret, loneliness and despair – all while conjuring up images of the expansive Western Australian landscape. The album closes with the solemn Tender is the night (the long farewell), in which Jill Birt and David McComb clutch for strands of optimism although separated by distance.


To reflect on the brilliance of this masterpiece some 34 years on, is also to marvel at the genius of the late and still underrated David McComb, who was only 23 years old when he wrote this entire album. His physical decline and death in 1999 at the age of only 36 was an unquantifiable loss to Australian music. The consolation is the enormous body of work which he has left for us.


If, by chance, you have not listened to this album for some time, or indeed have never been introduced to it, there are worse things you could do some of your isolation time than listening to this classic.


More from Smokie HERE


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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Great review Smoke! ‘Wide Open Road’ is indeed an Aussie classic. Mick Thomas does a fab version.

  2. Was a fan of the Triffids Smoke but never bought an album. As a poor student I was living on $40 per week and running the 1968 Kingswood as well. And beer was higher on the pecking order.

    Terrific review.

  3. Well played Mr Dawson. Very well played. Must admit when I first heard (and reviewed) the album all those years ago, it didn’t exactly grab me. Too subtle? Too good? How I woke up that morning? Hopefully I’ve made amends with my enthusiasm for David McComb’s post-Triffids band The Blackeyed Susans.

  4. Rick Kane says

    It is all that and more. Songs like Stolen Property and the magnificent Lonely Stretch add to its drama and mystique. I don’t think this album could be conceived anywhere other than Perth. It really is an artifact of place. The Mandurah estuary and coastline on the album cover set the scene, in a similar way to Nebraska,. Even though they are quite different albums their cover sets off an eerie, ominous feeling.

    Great review Smokie. And Vin, the handover song from The Triffids to Black Eyed Susans, Too Hot to Move, Too Hot to Think is a classic.

  5. Thanks Smokie. The Triffids drummer Alsy McDonald came to an Almanac book launch at Les Everett’s place in Fremantle a few years ago.
    “Wide Open Road” hits me “Like A Rolling Stone”.
    Someone must have looked at that album cover and thought “the land on the south side looks ideal for a golf course”. Now site of The Cut. Driving past it tomorrow on my way to Bunbury for their 36 hole Captains Cup. I know what CD to play.

  6. Thanks for all your comments. Much appreciated.

    Of course, I really could have raved on and on about this album, but held back in the interests of brevity.

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Having seen that you had written this review Smokie, I’ve given the album a couple of listens this morning.
    It, and your review, are superb.

    Reckon you nailed it with the line “this album is at once both distinctly Australian in feel, but yet universal in appeal”. As many great Australian albums are.

  8. roger lowrey says

    Not one I am familiar with Smokie. 1986 was in the middle of my I am going to change the world phase.

    That said, the poignant detail of your review makes me keen to get there. I shall do so presently and report findings next we share a table with food and wine.

    Sigh! May it be sooner rather than later.


  9. Chris Daley says

    Always enjoy reading your stuff Smokie

  10. Thanks Smokie. Great album and interesting observations from you, as usual.

  11. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Keep ’em comin’ Smokester.. Unfortunately, all of my Triffids stuff was purchased during my cassette-buying phase.

  12. John Butler says

    Some great insights here Smokie.

    Grandeur is a perfect world to describe the Triffids experience. Live, they always seemed to be bursting out of whatever space they were playing. Filling the room and soaring beyond. This was a band who sold relatively few records but wouldn’t have been out of place playing stadiums.

    It’s the songs.

    Thanks for the reminder.

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