New Zealand’s Flying Nun imprint had a two-tiered system: the groups that should, and the groups that won’t. Graeme Jefferies once confided he called it the “colour cover” vs. the “black and white cover” binary. Looking at the inner tray card collage on The Puddle’s No Love No Hate, three of their four Flying Nun records – Pop Lib, Live At The Teddy Bear Club and the “Thursday” 7” – sit proudly in black-and-white sleeves; Into The Moon’s red, blue and yellow is so arbitrary it might as well be greyscale. They were one of the “groups that won’t” – and yet George Henderson, Puddle founder and leader for over two decades, has displayed remarkable resilience where many of his peers have fallen by the wayside.
Henderson’s often painted as New Zealand’s Syd Barrett. It’s a title he’s shared (wrongly in both cases) with his good friend Alastair Galbraith – the mantle’s also been passed on to Peter Gutteridge on occasion. If the audio evidence was stacked for the Barrett argument on Pop Lib and Into The Moon – stumbling performances, drenched in tape hiss, that slowly yield pop masterpieces – then No Love No Hate is Henderson’s great leap forward. This shockingly confident album retains The Puddle’s idiosyncratic character without Henderson trading in a jot of his mastery of pop form.
Henderson’s songs are colloquial by design; they could only have come from New Zealand’s South Island, even as they admit to worldly concerns. On No Love No Hate, Henderson mostly hymns the vicissitudes of romance, in an unaffectedly literate style made natural by Henderson’s off-hand, borderline droll delivery. He could also double as an essayist on making stylistic traits subservient to the tenor of individual songs: Opener “No Sequels” chimes in with a clanging guitar sound that’s pure Kilgour-meets-Byrds; on “Hudibras,” Henderson remakes himself as a ’70s singer-songwriter at the piano.
I’ve heard mention in the past of George Henderson’s dark years – years lost to whatever problems or issues he was struggling with. I don’t know if that’s pure hagiography and I don’t feel it’s my place to ask, but if it is the case, then on the evidence of No Love No Hate, Henderson’s jumped out of the abyss and found purpose again. Let’s just hope this is one volley in many to come.