The year is 2002 and for the first time since the Britpop and grunge explosions of the 1990s, guitar music is in vogue.

Led chiefly by The Strokes in the US and The Libertines in the UK, the weeklies and monthlies are having a field day, and have already coined such terms as the ‘Garage Rock Revival’ and the ‘New Rock Revolution’.

Meanwhile, far away from the dual epicentres – New York and London, respectively – two bands on either side of the Tasman Sea are making a fist of cracking both markets.

New Zealand’s The Datsuns, a fiery four-piece on the ‘hard’ side of rock, are darlings of the influential rock paper, NME. And in Sydney, employees at a McDonald’s in the Sydney suburb of South Hurstville are no doubt following the progress of their former co-worker, and now rock star, Craig Nicholls.

By this point, Nicholls’ band The Vines – easily explained as a musical amalgam of Nirvana and The Beatles – has already been on the cover of Rolling Stone. They’ve also been declared the “saviours of rock”, and made a Letterman appearance so bizarre and explosive their success seemed destined to be fleeting. As we now know, it was.

Aside from a stunning debut album, The Vines’ key triumph was that they warmed overseas audiences – and A&R men – to the prospect of an all-conquering Australian rock band: a group with the songs, the image and, to put it bluntly, the relative stability, to make it big.

And as it soon emerged, that band was to be Jet.

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Getting Born – the early days

Twelve months after The Vines fronted Rolling Stone, a four-piece from the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne released their debut album, the aptly-titled Get Born.

The band’s core members, brothers Nic and Chris Cester, had been weaned on a healthy diet of classic rock ‘n’ roll.

As kids, the pair raided their father’s record collection – and warmed to The Beatles, The Easybeats and AC/DC among others. In doing so, they absorbed the sounds that would one day form the basis for their own music.

With their school friend and guitarist Cameron Muncey and bassist Doug Armstrong (replaced by Mark Wilson just before the band broke in 2002), the Cesters formed what eventually became known as Jet.

Nic Cester opened up about the band’s beginnings in an interview with rock journalist Tommy Danger in 2003.

“There was a lot of interest, so we were able to say, ‘We only wanna sign this if we’re making the decisions.”

“We started when Chris wasn’t even old enough (to get into a pub),” he explained. “Chris was 16 and playing drums and we were doing shows then. But we realised we were shit and our songs were shit. So we thought, ‘Well, fuck that’.”

“The only people that would come were five of your mates that could be fucked driving into the city to watch you play,” Cester continued. “So we thought … let’s get good at what we do before we show anyone.”

After getting “good”, they began slugging it out on the Melbourne rock circuit. Coming to the attention of their first manager, Dave Powell, Jet moved to consolidate the hype that was beginning to build around them. In November 2002, they put out their first release, an EP called Dirty Sweet.

In title, it was a reference to a lyric in the T.Rex song “Bang A Gong (Get It On)”. The EP included four songs: “Cold Hard Bitch”, “Move On”, “Rollover DJ” and “Take It Or Leave It”.

While all four tracks would appear the following year on Get Born, it was “Take Or Leave It” that initially made an impression after it received a glowing endorsement from the NME.

What ensued was a bidding war between various record companies who were all eager to cash in on Jet’s easily-marketed brand of Australian rock.

The following year, the quartet packed their bags for LA armed with an arsenal of potential singles and a shiny new record deal with the US label, Elektra.

‘Cold Hard Bitch’

‘Take It Or Leave It’

LA Boys – recording Get Born in Hollywood

Get Born was recorded at Hollywood’s Sunset Studios, where The Rolling Stones had made Exile On Main St and the Beach Boys, Pet Sounds.

The group worked alongside Brooklyn producer Dave Sardy who also mixed the album. Sardy had grown to prominence in the 1990s, first as a musician in his own band Barkmarket, and then for his production work with both The Dandy Warhols and Marilyn Manson.

With the Elektra deal affording them “creative freedom”, Jet handpicked Sardy to produce the record. 

“There was a lot of interest, so we were able to say, ‘We only wanna sign this if we’re making the decisions, picking the producer’, Chris Cester said in 2003. “(Elektra) don’t do anything without our consent, we don’t do anything without their consent.” 

“(Sardy) has his own way of doing things,” Cester elaborated to Modern Drummer. “So there were a lot of confrontations at the start of the record. But we’re all really good friends, so it was never anything personal.” Aside from these early differences, the sessions were also halted at the midway point after the band was offered a coveted support slot for The Rolling Stones.

Notably, Get Born features an appearance from the renowned keyboardist Billy Preston. Given Preston’s previous credits included The Beatles and The Stones, this was a huge buzz.

“It was an idea that our producer, Dave Sardy, put to us,” Chris Cester said. “We just looked at him and said, ‘Are you joking?’ But he said, ‘No, Billy’s in LA. Let’s give him a call.’ So we sent him our stuff and he agreed to come down and play on the record.”

Radio Songs – A look at the album

For a raw, “balls-out” record, Get Born is remarkably polished in its production and its arrangements. While many of the songs are what you might call “big, dumb rock songs”, the band’s use of key changes, dynamic shifts and catchy hooks is far from dumb.

In 50-odd minutes, Get Born employs all the pop tricks in the book, piling melody upon melody over its fever-inducing rock guitars.

“Last Chance” is a rapid fire blast to begin proceedings, setting the tone with its crunchy verse riff and simple shout-along chorus. This formula is faithfully – and successfully – repeated on “Get What You Need” and “Take It Or Leave It”.

“Rollover DJ”, despite its slightly petty lyrics  – it’s a dig at Saturday night “pill popping jukeboxes” – is another raucous gem that worms its way into your consciousness and refuses to leave.

While the album is best known for its high octane attack, its ballads are among the highlights.

“Come Around Again” and “Move On” are both Stones-y compositions a la “Angie” or “Wild Horses” while the popular single “Look What You’ve Done” is an anthemic piano ballad that echoes The Beatles’ “Let It Be”.

The closer “Timothy”, meanwhile, is the album’s most moving moment, with its twisting guitar arpeggios and dreamy production sounds melded to a heartbreakingly honest sentiment.

“It’s kind of haunting – a haunting way to end, which we kind of liked,” explained Nic Cester in 2004. “The song is actually about, Chris wrote it about…there was a brother that would have been older than Cam, our guitarist. And at a few months old [Cam’s brother] died. It started from a conversation Chris had with Cam, with Cam saying sometimes he felt like sort of a replacement child.”

Though the obvious – and most quoted influences – on the record are The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the stadium-sized riff-rock of AC/DC, Get Born also mines from the songwriting trick bag of Oasis songwriter, Noel Gallagher.

Moreover, like many of the compositions in Gallagher’s own canon, more than a handful of the songs on Get Born bear an uncanny similarity to other well-known rock hits.

In fact, aside from the occasionally lazy lyricism, the main overarching criticism of Get Born is that it borrows too liberally from the past.


‘Roll Over DJ’

Lust for likeness – A work of genius or otherwise

At the time of its release, Get Born received good reviews, with most praising the album’s immediacy. Its critics, however, sought to skewer the group for what they believed to be Get Born’s key flaw: plagiarism.

In a harsh though entertaining review for Pitchfork, Nick Sylvester likened the group to an over-exuberant and vaguely stupid cover band.

Imagining a scene where Jet is heckled by a packed American arena for being unoriginal, Sylvester picks out the songs and then explains who they’re ripping off.

“Last Chance” apes AC/DC, he says, while “Get What You Need” is dismissed as a Kinks riff recast. Other tracks are said to be alike to Oasis, The Wallflowers and Bon Jovi.

The crown in Sylvester’s argument lies with the band’s iPod ad soundtracking, mega-hit “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” and its similarity – in drum beat and guitar riff –  to Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life”.

“Hey assholes, it’s us again, Jet!” Sylvester writes as mock on stage banter. “Here’s the song you came to hear, a shameless rip-off of “Lust For Life” by Iggy Pop.”

Ironically, when Jet met Iggy Pop – they recorded a cover of Johnny O’Keefe’s “The Wild One’ together – they found he didn’t share the press’ ire towards the similarity.

“It’s funny because I asked him point blank about that,” Chris Cester recalled to Uptown Magazine in 2009. “He said I was crazy. He said that when he and David Bowie were writing “Lust For Life”, they were ripping off Motown’s beat. It’s funny that he said that to me because we also thought we were ripping off Motown more than “Lust For Life”.”

“To be honest with you that kind of annoyed me a lot, because I always thought it was really lazy,” continued Cester. “People just go, ‘Well “Lust For Life” is more well-known,’ so that’s what they go for, but if you listen to a song like “You Can’t Hurry Love” (The Supremes) I think you’ll find it’s closer to “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” than “Lust For Life” ever was. And that’s what Iggy said as well.”

‘Are You Gunna Be My Girl?

‘Lust For Life’

‘Can’t Hurry Love’

Look What You’ve Done – Get Born’s legacy

Jet never got close to matching the magic they captured on Get Born and, looking back, they never really had a chance.

But by breaking up last year, they went a way to salvaging their legacy –  which was being eroded by increasingly lacklustre records and a diminishing presence at the forefront of Australian rock.

While the Get Born follow up Shine On and 2009’s Shaka Rock were fairly meaningless to anyone outside of the band’s core fan base, their debut remains one of the most popular Australian rock records of all-time.

It was the highest selling Australian rock album of the decade, has sold more than 6.5 million copies and is certified eight-times platinum.

It also went platinum in the UK (more than 300,000 sales) and in the US (more than 1 million sales).

Above all that, though, it demonstrates the power of youthful exuberance and naivety in rock ‘n’ roll: it wears its influences on its sleeve with pride and is never contrived or pretentious.

Purely and simply, it is the sound of four Melbourne boys in love with the power of rock ‘n’ roll.

And for that, we salute them.

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