Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Paul Kelly [extended]

  • Under the Sun [A&M, 1988] B
  • Greatest Hits: Songs From the South; Volumes 1 & 2 [Capitol, 2008] B+

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Paul Kelly & the Messengers: Under the Sun [A&M, 1988]
Disinclined though I am to believe that styles just wear out, I note that when this inspired wordsmith doesn't get it right he sounds corny--not just on a gaffe like "Desdemona," but on the sex tropes of "Happy Slave" or the frontier boogie of "Forty Miles to Saturday Night." Problem's those foursquare Messengers, the rock and roll band of a wordsmith's dreams--never threaten his suzerainty for a second. Granted, when he's outlining a young fool's marriage in "To Her Door" or the story of his life in "Dumb Things," it's just as well they don't. But you know his admirers feel all warm inside when they hear that moderate four-four, never suspecting that "Forty Miles to Saturday Night" would sound corny from Hüsker Dü. B

Greatest Hits: Songs From the South; Volumes 1 & 2 [Capitol, 2008]
Fifteen quite terrific songs out of 40 don't add up to a full rave for a straight-ahead folk-rocker's 40-track import-only double-CD. But they damn well should have broken him out of Australia. Always clear and concise, he can tell a story, and sings plain broad Aussie with barely a hint of blather. Please try to hear, in descending order: "Everything's Turning to White," "Bradman," "To Her Door," "Every F---ing City," "Sweet Guy," "From Little Things Big Things Grow," "How to Make Gravy," "They Thought I Was Asleep," "When First I Met Your Ma," "Deeper Water," "Dumb Things," "Song of the Old Rake," "Be Careful What You Pray For," "Shane Warne," and "The Oldest Story in the Book." B+

Further Notes:

Distinctions Not Cost-Effective [1970s]: One great song--"Stealin' in the Name of the Lord"--was good for a decade's worth of rep. And the song wasn't all that great.