Life is Fine by Paul Kelly
‘When are you going to do a normal record?’ After five years of self-proclaimed, yet highly regarded ‘varied music’ (including last year’s dual releases of Shakespeare’s sonnets and funeral songs), Paul Kelly’s record company likely wondered if he would ever dust off his electric guitar and his band, and return to the clever, punchy, distinctly Australian music of his early career. Life is Fine, Kelly’s 23rd studio album, is an emphatic answer.
Kelly’s assembled old friends and frequent collaborators, including RocKwiz mainstays Pete Luscombe and Ash Naylor, and the ever-amazing Vika and Linda Bull. The band’s energy and enthusiasm is evident throughout. The lead single, ‘Firewood and Candles’, sizzles with snappy guitars and keyboards reminiscent of 1989’s So Much Water So Close to Home. Unlike the snark of some of the early songs, however, Life is Fine is distinctly upbeat. Kelly chirpily describes the album’s contents as: ‘lots of happy songs, songs with cooking in them’ and ‘a song about the man flu’. Indeed, the lurching Vika Bull lead ‘My Man’s Got a Cold’ is a highlight, the band sputtering and coughing joyfully behind her as if backing up a phlegmatic (abstinent) Tom Waits. The rhythmic, bass-heavy intro to ‘Rock Out on the Sea’ seems to playfully invoke Radiohead’s In Rainbows before settling into a crisp, well-formed rock song.
The title track closes out the album, with lyrics from Langston Hughes’ poem. Despite the change of narrator, the sentiment appears clear. After a long career, containing many risks and divergences, Paul Kelly’s new record is less about reinvention than it is about reinvigoration. After all this, comfortingly, Life is Fine.
Tom Hoskins is the Shop Manager at Readings at the State Library Victoria.