In case you needed reminding, here are ten songs that showcase the excellence of Vika & Linda.
Reductive histories of Australian rock music pay too much attention to cramped, sweaty venues full of testosterone-loaded, drunken men. I mean, heck, “pub rock” is the term used to describe so many of Australia’s canonical artists. This might make sense on the basis of how much time musicians are required to spend in pubs, but it’s a bit unfair on the artists – bands like Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel and Divinyls achieved a lot more than simply appeasing half-cut revellers at inner city hotels.
The lived history of rock music in Australia isn’t exactly a paragon of diversity, but it’s definitely more multi-faceted than the boys club annals would have you believe. For instance, the shape of Australian music would be vastly different were it not for the contributions of Vika and Linda Bull.
The Melbourne-born Bull sisters, whose mother was Tongan, first made their mark as members of Joe Camilleri’s The Black Sorrows in the late 1980s. Buts after five years and three albums, Vika and Linda left the Sorrows to launch a duo career in 1994. The pair (whose careers are near-inseparable) released four albums over the next decade, collaborating closely with the likes of Paul Kelly, Diesel and Renée Geyer and cementing their place in Oz rock history.
With the pair recently issuing a greatest hits anthology, we decided it was time for a deep dive into Vika & Linda’s finest recorded moments.
1. ‘Hard Love’ (1994):
The first track from the duo’s debut album showcases many of the strengths that would define their career from this point forward. Written by Paul Kelly – who also produced the album – ‘Hard Love’ is a curvaceous blues rocker. The production makes clear who the stars are – Vika and Linda’s voices are front and centre, driving the action, and proving as capable at belting out high harmonies as summoning intrigue in their lower registers.
2. ‘When Will You Fall For Me’ (1994):
This is by far Vika & Linda’s most elegantly sculpted pop song. That it was written by Hunters & Collectors’ Mark Seymour is no surprise. But as with the songs written by Paul Kelly and Joe Camilleri on the duo’s debut album, it doesn’t sound like a H&Cs leftover, but a springboard for the Bull sisters’ combined talents. It might be easy on the ears, but the hook, “When will you come to your senses / When will you fall for me?” will stay with you for days.
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3. ‘Parting Song’ (1996):
Album number two, 1996’s Princess Tabu, not only featured more songwriting contributions from Vika and Linda, but also bore the influence of their mother’s home country, Tonga. ‘Parting Song’ is one such example, beginning with a choral mantra and island percussion, before transmuting into a robust rock song.
4. ‘Princess Tabu’ (1996):
The title, Princess Tabu, was inspired by a fairytale about twin sisters. According to Vika & Linda’s website, the sisters’ “mother died in childbirth, and they were separated for ten years. And they grew up alone, and apart. One was called Princess Ta, and one was called Princess Bu.”
The album’s title track is a mischievous reggae-tinged number co-written by the Bulls, Tim Finn and Michael Barker (John Butler Trio). It’s not an overstatement to say it’s up there with Finn’s best post-Split Enz work, and it’s also one of Vika & Linda’s most lyrically compelling songs.
5. ‘I’m On My Way’ (1999):
For their third album, 1999’s Two Wings, the Bulls brought Kelly back in to co-produce alongside Aussie soul legend Renée Geyer. Geyer recognised the Bulls’ clear knack for making estimable compositions their own, and so the album includes re-workings of songs by Bob Marley, Archie Roach and Kelly himself.
The record’s finest moment is its opening track, a groove-laden take on the gospel number ‘I’m On My Way’. The Bulls weren’t afraid to embrace turn of the ‘00s studio technology – distorted instrument sounds and sampled bits of percussion and ambience contribute to the song’s enchanting personality.
6. ‘We’ve Started A Fire’ (1994):
‘We’ve Started a Fire’ is another Kelly composition to feature on 1994’s self-titled album. However, it’s the sort of song you couldn’t imagine Kelly releasing himself at the time. The influence of dub and reggae is stamped all over the track, while the Bulls put in one of their heartiest vocal performances, singing in unison throughout.
7. ‘’Akilotoa’ (1996):
Vika recently explained the meaning behind the word ‘Akilotoa; the title of a song on Princess Tabu and also the name of the Bulls’ recent greatest hits anthology. “It has lots of different meaning in Tongan,” she said. “It actually means ‘cascading’ in the Tongan dictionary. Our song is a love song sung in the Tongan language. It is about a woman who lost her husband and it’s her yearning for him. It is just a really beautiful word in Tongan.”
Accordingly, ‘’Akilotoa’ is a beautiful lullaby built around a simple ukulele chord progression, nodding towards Tongan ukulele maestro Sione Aleki.
8. ‘Tied In Knots’ (1999):
You Am I’s Tim Rogers penned Two Wings’ penultimate track, ‘Tied In Knots’, a lackadaisical country rock number that motioned towards the sort of music that’d dominate his solo LPs across the next decade. As great as he is, Rogers often has a way of swallowing the impact of his choruses. In the hands of Vika & Linda, however, ‘Tied In Knots’ is positively anthemic.
9. ‘Never Let Me Go’ (The Black Sorrows, 1990):
It’d be to criminal to leave this song out. The third single lifted from the Sorrows’ 1990 masterpiece, Harley + Rose, ‘Never Let Me Go’ proved Vika & Linda were a force to be reckoned with. Vika handles the lead, while the song is lifted to another level thanks to Linda’s background vocals in the chorus. It still sends shivers 30 years after its release.
10. ‘House of Love’ (1994):
The sweetest track on Vika & Linda was written by Wayne Burt of Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons and Black Sorrow fame. While not as immediately infectious as Seymour’s ‘When Will You Fall For Me’, ‘House of Love’ carries an undeniable melodic glimmer. For their part, Vika & Linda demonstrate admirable restraint as they bow to the elegance of the song’s evolving melodic structure.