Steve Kilbey's Gloriously Overextended New Record

Feb. 17, 2009
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Longtime Church singer Steve Kilbey's latest solo album is overlong, overindulgent and overreaching, and I love it for that. It's hard to fault an album so endearingly ambitious. Painkiller doesn't quite have the budget or the hipness to pull off everything it attempts—some of Kilbey's electronic flourishes, for instance, are rigid and dated—but what it does have going for it is Kilbey's pining, heavenly voice, untouched by time, and songs that absolutely soar.

Recent Church albums have been such a delight in part because that band has embraced age instead of resisting it, allowing their timeworn '80s guitar-pop to mellow naturally. But Painkiller, which Kilbey recorded with contributions from The Brian Jonestown Massacre's Ricky Rene Maymi, takes the exact opposite approach: It's hungry and restless, eager to flaunt its many highlights. "Wolfe" re-imagines a John Cale dirge as a rousing, Tom Petty rocker, while the serene "Crystalline Rush" kicks up a bittersweet, Jesus and Mary Chain-ish haze. Kilbey's voice is every bit as empathetic as it was on The Church's lone hit, "Under the Milky Way," but there's a bite to his lyrics this time around-more Sartre than Rimbaud. Intentionally or not, the penultimate track "Forever Last For Nothing" is a refutation of Echo and the Bunnymen's middle-age ballad "Nothing Last Forever," with Kilbey dismissively sneering, "No one fucking cares about your broken heart." Where it came from, I'm not sure, but the guy has some fight in him now, and it suits him well.


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