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Steve Kilbey
Painkiller
Second Motion Records
www.thechurchband.com


What do you do when you've got a commercially successful band that's been together for 25 plus years, made numerous successful collaborations with other artists, have alternative careers going as a poet, actor and artist, and split your time between two of the most beautiful countries in the world? I reckon I might take a few self-congratulatory months off, but no such slacking for Church main man Steve Kilbey, who's decided to use his down time to make his first solo album in 8 years.

Kilbey's efforts have always been eclectic and compelling; in the tradition of the solo project, he gets to stretch outside the boundaries of the Church and indulge his more out-there musical ideas (which maybe go a teensy bit too far on the 31-minute final track "Not What You Say", but are otherwise admirably reined in).

Kilbey has worked with some top notch artists on previous albums, including Margot Smith, the late Grant McLennan of the much-missed Go-Betweens on the excellent Jack Frost project (their self-titled first album is a particular classic) and Game Theory's Donnette Thayer. Notable guest on Painkiller is Graham Lee, formerly of the fantastic Triffids and a long-time contributor to Australian music in general, who adds his usual heartfelt pedal steel here.

Compared to some of the previous solo records, Painkiller is surprisingly consistent without losing variety. Naturally, you get quite a few songs that could fit nicely on a Church album, like the propulsive opener "Outbound" with its classic Kilbey stream-of-consciousness lyrics, the bass-pumping "Celestial" and the epic, atmospheric "Song For The Masking" (almost a Church song title too, and underpinned by some great discordant guitar noise). "Oenone" also reminds quite a bit of the Church, but its motorik, guitar-thrumming, almost Krautrock feel distinguishes it from the herd and makes it into one of the very best songs here.

There are some fine diversions as well, though; try the short, jangly pop song "Wolfe", which sounds like a long-lost Jack Frost outtake. There are a couple of largely acoustic numbers; "Forever Lasts For Nothing" would be fine like that all the way through, with its minor chord melody reminiscent of an old Church song from Séance or Remote Luxury, but is uplifted by pounding drums, bass and string-like keyboards at the end. "Spirit In Flame" also starts off as an acoustic strummer, but then veers off into dub territory with a Jah Wobble-style bass - much better than it sounds on paper, I assure you.

Most Church fans would probably admit to preferring the band's work over its members' solo work - guitarists Marty Willson-Piper (who also has a new solo record, Nightjar, shortly to be reviewed here) and Peter Koppes, and drummer Tim Powles, are all gifted enough on their own that they make the group much more than the sum of its individuals. Still, Painkiller is a fine record in its own right, and definitely up there with the best of Kilbey's previous solo efforts like Remindlessness and Narcosis+. It's the work of a hugely talented musician who's always avoided complacency and compromise and followed his vision for much longer than most.

-Gareth Bowles

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