All the reviews I can find of this album focus on how strange, complex and quirky it is – but not in a good way. “It’s confusing!” they say. “It’s silly! The music is too busy!” Some reviews have a palpable undercurrent of anger and disappointment, mostly because Kelly didn’t just stick to simple acoustic driven stories. In other words they were annoyed that it didn’t sound like his dad’s music (EDIT: This is referring to Paul Kelly, who is actually his uncle, not his father).
And okay, I’ll admit that I had a similar reaction at first. I didn’t really know what to make of the album. But damn it grew on me. I think the turning point came one day when I was taking a midday nap (probably a little hungover) with the Itunes playlist on shuffle in the background. On came the album’s epic penultimate track Poisoned Estuary Jam and in my half-awake state it was like I was hearing it for the first time. As the track hit the peak of it’s extended instrumental outro (somewhere around the 8 minute mark) I found myself convinced it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever heard.
Nothing on the album sounds anything like that track but it gave me a starting point to help make sense of the rest of it. Like many other people I’d figured the album’s lyrics were purposefully obtuse stream-of-consciousness attempts to sound weird and psychedelic, but Poisoned Estuary Jam made it clear that the lyrics have a lot more focus than first apparent. Eventually I came to a conclusion that the man himself confirms with this quote …
“A lot of my songs are environmental freak-out songs. Public-transport-snooze driven psychedelic dreams and songs about trying to escape, but realising that all the same problems are still there wherever you end up. The planet is decaying, and I’ve been personally decaying along with it and trying to figure out my way through in writing all these songs.” –
Once I’d lived with it for a while I found that the album is incredibly good at expressing that idea, or more importantly – that feeling. Sure it’s peppered with odd references to seductresses from Kyoto and instant noodle trees but overall it’s about the problems of the world (especially environmental problems) and the frustration of not knowing what to do about them. In a way the more bizarre lyrics fit well with that theme, because anything vaguely psychedelic sounding will always be associated with drugs and drugs will always be one of the world’s favourite coping mechanisms.
First track, The Decomissioner, sets this all up with a tale of an eco-terrorist resorting to blowing up power stations because “the apocalypse is coming” and he’s “tired of all this indecision”. It could be interpreted as a self-righteous endorsement of extremism but there’s something manic about the song’s delivery that makes it unclear whether the protagonist is the hero or something of a misguided villain. Sure enough, by the albums close, Kelly (or his fictional alter-ego) have become disenchanted with fanaticism and even escapism. Instead he vows to “go in search of a grown up solution”.
Overall this is an underrated album that should be embraced for it’s eccentricities rather than shunned. It’s a lot of fun but if you’re a person with a social conscience who tires of hearing the same old arguments from the far left and far right, you might be surprised how much more you get out of it.
I’ll leave you with this great clip for the truly odd but highly endearing title track …