Paul Kelly is a soft-rock musician who has been skirting on the sidelines of music since the mid 1980s. His new collection of greatest hits, Songs from the South, charts his career via early efforts like “From St Kilda to King’s Cross” and “Before Too Long” to 2007’s efforts like “Stolen Apples.”
Kelly’s style is a very unusual one, his songs seem to straddle the line between folk songs, soft-rock and musical storytelling. As an Australian his style has probably developed from the folk tales sang around campfires centuries ago. Despite being so steeped in history and having a career of such longevity, Kelly’s music seems strangely plain and boring. The best of his work reminds me of some of the lesser songs by The Eagles or Paul Simon whose talents greatly surpass Mr Kelly’s.
Although the earlier work is very bland, the songs from album So Much Water Close to Home seem to have a bit more punch to them. They seem far more “alive” than the others. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a bit of melancholia every so often but Kelly’s forays into the sadder side of life seem more tired and dreary than full of emotion and power as they should be. Songs like “Winter Coat” and ” Bradman” are tedious and dreary to the extent that they are almost unbearable to listen to without subconsciously tying a noose in your headphones. There are whole swathes of these “Greatest” hits which are a real chore to listen to, yet it is clear that Kelly has something. “Sweet Guy” and “Pouring Petrol on a Burning Man” are examples of rock with a little more oomph to it than the rest of the album and are definitely worth a look at.
Despite some of these decent country songs and acceptable rock songs, Kelly’s music never seems to transcend these meagre boundaries to anything more than just merely decent or acceptable. His idea of writing songs as stories is novel at first but it soon becomes really rather grating and irritatingly twee. His songs rarely have choruses and therefore seem overlong and devoid of anything to latch onto to really enjoy. His lyrics are the only thing you end up paying attention to which makes me wonder why Kelly didn’t become a spoken word artist or poet or something similar.
Though I can understand the appeal to an older generation, who may want something to relax to on a Sunday afternoon, I can’t really recommend Songs from the South when there are numerous more talented songwriters who have done what Kelly does but with more panache, more talent and less tedium.