Paul Kelly seems to have always been around in my music-listening life. His songs are almost impossible to avoid.
One excuse would be that for years I shared houses with owners of some of his works. Another is that I sort of backed a different quintessentially Oztraylian singer-songwriter in Mick Thomas (in his Weddings, Parties, Anything and solo guises), and like footy teams it didn’t seem right to have more than one.
Maintaining that football analogy, it’s fair to say Thomas is the St.Kilda to Kelly’s Essendon (although I think Kelly is an Adelaide supporter) in terms of overall success (it’s perhaps worth noting I’d probably have backed The Animals when asked my Beatles vs Rolling Stones preference, so I’m a poor judge!).
So turning to PK and this two disc compendium of his works, I’m glad I finally did succumb to his wiles.
The discs run chronologically. #1, his pre-1997, is jam-packed with all the songs I’d heard many times before. Sitting together they represent a mightily impressive body of work.
Kelly’s strength lies in capturing the human experience through vignettes that seem so specific yet universal (i.e. he is very much a writer’s writer). But he does so in a very unassuming and casual manner.
His songs aren’t overly abstract or wanky, and share that apparent simplicity great country music manages. I guess that’s why he’s never seemed cool or fashionable, but more permanent. His approach may well be the path to national treasure status.
I’m not going to roll off the long list of tunes that excite my on disc 1, but I will confess to getting far too affected by two tracks (given my lack of prison-bound immediate relatives, and my indifference to Australia’s greatest cricketer):
Disc 2 does much less for me, and doesn’t get many spins, as Kelly wanders off in a variety of directions that presumably seemed good ideas to him.
To close the loop on this review, his Every F**king City borrows several punchlines (about dancing to crap music in exotic nightclubs, and failing to maintain love even in romantic cities) from two classic Mick Thomas-penned tunes. Here’s the first one (with bonus hilarious early ’90s fashion):
File under: That first disc is a must have.