CD Review: Steve Kilbey – Painkiller & Marty Willson-Piper – Nightjar (Second Motion Records )

painkiller-webnightjar-webThe media keeps reminding us that in times of economic trouble people always return to the church for comfort to ease their and to provide them with hope for better times ahead. How fitting then, that after quite a few years the members of The Church are returning in this time of economic and music business upheaval to bless us not only with hope of a great album ahead from the band but also to provide us with solo albums from Marty Willson-Piper and Steve Kilbey to tide us over until the band’s first album in years has been completed. Needless to say, listening to them not only whetted my appetite to hear The Church’s upcoming release but has also provided a great opportunity to get reacquainted with what these two talented musicians and songwriters bring to the table.

For one thing, Kilbey and Willson-Piper never stop creating great music, no matter the name of their various projects.

Beginning his solo career with the 1986 release of Unearthed, Kilbey has maintained a steady stream of solo releases since – to the rate of about three per decade, not counting his recordings with side-side projects Jack Frost and Isidore. Truly, this is an artist brimming with many musical passions which cannot be fully explored by The Church alone as is also obviously the case with fellow bandmate Willson-Piper, who has also recorded several solo albums over the years while also guesting in several different bands (Cinerama and The Saints to name two) and collaborating with artists Aimee Mann and Tom Verlaine among many others.

Fans of modern psychedelia are sure to love Kilbey’s album, as parts of it are as “out there” as some of the best psyche from the ’60’s. For one thing, the last song is a tour de force that lasts an immense thirty-one minutes and almost makes one disoriented inside of it’s intense scope. The rest of the tracks employ trip-hops loops and beats and some dark, murky textures that imply not all is well in Kilbey’s world. That is, unless venting it on this album has saved him from having to live with this stuff trapped inside of himself. Kilbey’s aides-de-camp on this set include Church drummer Tim Powles, steel guitarist Graham Lee and William Bowden handling something called “radiotronics”. Other than that, it’s all Kilbey from the guitars to the basses to the keyboards. Though a little more “down” than his usual solo work, there’s still enough “vintage” Kilbey to keep his fans and fans of The Church happy.

It is interesting and probably a key to their good working relationship that Kilbey’s albums have gone a little left of center from The Church’s usual brand of pop while the new CD from Willson-Piper shows Willson-Piper reigning in a lot of his more “out” tendencies in favor of a return to the same kind of tuneful semi-psyche pop made by their band.

To fully appreciate Willson-Piper’s solo album, one first has to get accustomed to (and get past) Willson-Piper’s tendency to humor his self-indulgences. While the point of a musician making solo albums outside of their regular gig is to get all of the musical ideas that are brimming inside that don’t fit with the regular band projects out of the system, sometimes Willson-Piper is not his own best editor. As the years have passed, I found myself noticing that solo album after solo album Willson-Piper released through the ’80’s and ’90’s would get more and more…uh… “precious” I guess, in my opinion. Less concise, more flowery arrangements than I thought the song would need or even have use for. The arrangements would not suit the song so much as seemingly suit Willson-Piper’s tendencies to overdo and add every conceivable bell and whistle to the production. That being said, this album is much more removed from those tendencies and I find myself liking it a lot more than his last few. The first song No One There is absolutely killer! It’s as if Willson-Piper has realized it’s time to get serious and has started crafting his pop more for the song than to see what he can do arrangement-wise. So, I think it rocks and the slow rocker The Sniper is my fave song on the album but I hear many songs I like.

While the casual Church fan may dismiss these albums as mere opening benedictions to the forthcoming meaty musical sermon provided by the band as a whole, I would recommend these albums to any fans of that band and to others searching for well-played and constructed pop music. Both Kilbey and Willson-Piper have ably demonstrated over the years why they are so highly regarded both as solo artists and as collaborators both to other artists and to each other as fellow Church members. Better still, the two manage the rare feat of being able to weave their various individual tics and musical idiosyncrasies together when acting as bandmates yet allow those same characteristics to come to the fore when they do their side projects so that none of what they do with others or on their own need to be held up to the light of The Church for comparison. I believe that even if The Church had never been formed, Kilby and Willson-Piper would still be vital, much-appreciated artists today – and these two albums prove it. Pick them up and see for yourselrf. You won’t be disappointed.

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