Album review: STEVE KILBEY – Sydney Rococo

STEVE KILBEY - Sydney Rococo

Golden Robot Records [Release date: 23.11.18]

Has anyone else noticed a trend lately to drench perfectly good music in an avalanche of overly high-in-the-mix orchestration? I don’t know why so many top artists are doing this – is it an ego trip or just an attempt to make things sound “different”?

What I do know is that Steve Kilbey, founder member of one of the finest bands of the past thirty years – The Church, and one of the best songwriters of his generation has dipped his toe in the water – to mixed results.

I have followed antipodean band The Church since those halcyon days of the mid-eighties, where a run of great jangly psych-rock albums such as ‘The Blurred Crusade’, ‘Heyday’ and particularly ‘Under The Milky Way’ just blew me away when so much else was all that New Romantic bollocks.

Thirty Church albums and 21 solo albums (not to mention Jack Frost with Grant McLennan) into a stellar career, we arrive at ‘Sydney Rococo’ – five years in the writing and something of a love/hate letter to his home town.

Things get underway with the title track which introduces said strings immediately, but then those oh-so-familiar vocals cut through and you think ‘this is going to be OK’. And it is, mostly.

It’s at its best, as is most of the album, when the strings drop out and allow the band to get on with it and do what they do. Occasionally, and again this happens a few times throughout the album, the strings are almost painful on the ears – imagine the shower scene from ‘Psycho’ at high volume…

Things calm down beautifully with ‘Distant Voices’ with its strummed acoustic intro and typically off-kilter Kilbey lyrics set against some lovely piano cascades, and ‘When I Love Her She Sings’ whose chiming guitar chords could have come from any Church album of the eighties – isn’t nostalgia wonderful?

‘Nineveh’ ups the pace with its staccato guitar riff and almost rap-like vocals, but this segues into a glorious chorus. As with most things Kilbey – expect the unexpected. Have to say though that more strings over-complicate what is a quite simple song.

‘The Wrong One’ whose lovely piano figure and subtle backing vocals press its case as one of the highlights here – the inclusion of strings, on this occasion, enhance rather than dominate.

Other highlights include the delicate acoustic riff of ‘Lagoon’, the driving psych-pop of ‘A Night Is Coming’ (although the strings overpower again), The Church fan’s chiming guitar nirvana of ‘The Lonely City’ and the piano-led closer ‘Traitor Signals’.

Despite my ranting about the orchestration, this is an extremely satisfying album full of great songwriting and great songs – I would expect nothing less of Steve Kilbey.

In the absence of orchestration, or using it to merely round-out the sound, this would be a nailed-on five stars – as it is, and it pains me greatly…  ****

Review by Alan Jones


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