Life is Fine Paul Kelly EMI If there’s anything Paul Kelly ever forgot about constructing kick-arse songs, it probably wasn’t worth knowing — and the delightful thing here is that Life is Fine sees Kelly returning to his old musical stomping ground for the first time in several albums.
There has been a range of stylistic departures in recent years — his quirky Shakespeare interpretation Seven Sonnets and a Song; the Charlie Owen collaboration Death’s Dateless Night, quite literally a funereal collection — but this sees Kelly come back, by his own admission, to the bread-and-butter pop-rock that marked his elevation from the early 1980s to the throne of Australia’s king of the bittersweet ballad with a killer backbeat.
Many of his long-time musical collaborators are again in the studio on this one, including sisters Vika and Linda Bull, who provide backing vocals and one lead track each.
Much of the rest of the Merri Soul Sessions band from that sterling 2014 effort is here, too. Kelly compares the first single, Firewood and Candles, to some of the best of what his late 1980s band the Messengers came up with.
Album closer Life is Fine is a setting of a piece by American poet Langston Hughes, writing, when Kelly was still but a boy, of the impenetrable unknowingness of life: “I could’ve died for love, but for livin’ I was born / though you may hear me holler, though you may see me cry / I’ll be dogged sweet baby, if you gonna see me die.”
Ever the inventor, Kelly latches on to the word Petrichor, coined by two CSIRO scientists to describe the scent produced when rain falls on dry soil, for a classic Kelly chorus of “I don’t need you, but I sure want you”.
In between is plenty of the man’s usual wry humour, including a blues-groove ode to man flu, worth the price of admission all by itself.