Dan Sultan – Killer
Dan Sultan’s fourth album Killer opens with a song called ‘Drover’. It’s a sparse cut of modern electro-soul that tells a story from the perspective of an Indigenous drover working at Wave Hill in 1966, who hears whispers of a walk-off.
It’s a clever prequel to the Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody classic ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’. It’s a modern take of telling an old and important story. And, while it’s something of an outlier on this deeply personal album, it still announces that Dan Sultan is now writing songs that might even surpass the supreme standard of his voice.
Given it’s been a few years since his last album, it comes as no surprise that we hear a rejuvenated and, in a sense, reinvented Dan Sultan on Killer.
Dan Sultan has always been a soul singer, but in 2017 he has the confidence, courage and creativity to take it outside of the rock’n’roll template in which he’s spent so much time. He has imbued something less vintage and more current.
Many hallmarks of quality neo-soul are present in these songs; synths, drum machines, gospel backing vocals and sparse-yet-affecting arrangements. It’s a brilliant context for Sultan’s voice and the expert collaborative songwriting on display here.
The chorus of single ‘Hold It Together’ gets better every time you hear it. The power of ‘Magnetic’ becomes more pronounced when you hear the song in the context of the rest of the record. The 80s-pop sidestep of ‘Reaction’ works surprisingly well towards the end of the record, showing the ultimate power of a well-placed backing vocal.
One thing the performances and production don’t quite nail here is pathos. There’s plenty of emotion on the table here, Sultan is totally open, but everything is a little too glossy to show the vulnerability we know he can exhibit.
He gets close consistently, on the deep ‘Should’ve Known’ and the soulful piano ballad ‘Cul De Sac’, for example, but the sound of the songs don’t quite hurt as much as the lyrics.
Sultan’s self-examination on ‘Over In Time’ is moving. A stripped back version of this song would crack the hardest of souls. Though you wouldn’t want to take the beautiful gospel vocals away from ‘Easier Man’. They bring with them an almost redemptive quality that matches the song beautifully.
Killer is full of great songs. It gives more bang for buck than any Dan Sultan record so far, and the fact that it is an evolution in his sound is just a welcome bonus.
Dan Sultan is still a rockstar on Killer, just one of a different kind. It suits him just fine.