Paul Kelly – Life Is Fine
Life Is Fine is a normal Paul Kelly album. His words, not mine. It’s not a song-cycle, a collection of Shakespearean verses put to music, a record of funeral songs, a collection of poems, or a craftily assembled soul supergroup. This is Paul Kelly, writing and singing songs that sound like the Paul Kelly you fell for at some point over the past 40 years.
Astounding as those recent diversions have been – and they really have – it’s time. We’re ready for a record that doesn’t need an explanation, a record that gives us Paul Kelly as the keen observer of modern life, love and what makes us feel the way we do.
And we couldn’t ask for more than is offered on Life Is Fine.
The moody, evocative ‘Rising Moon’ is a brilliant start. We join Kelly and his new lover on a romantic stroll to the quarry to watch the moon.
We join him to watch that moon again – maybe months, maybe years later – after they have left him all alone. We feel his poor heart jump out of his chest and ours does the same.
It’s new love, broken hearts and a deep connection with the natural world all rolled into one short vignette. Kelly hits these emotional pressure points better than any songwriter in this country and he’s in fine form on Life Is Fine.
Light and breezy, feel-good love songs like ‘Finally Something Good’, ‘Josephina’ and ‘Firewood and Candles’ are grin-inducing reminders that love is actually grand. ‘Petrichor’ is a considered celebration of the natural world and the beauty of a love that is somewhat detached, but still burning.
But, don’t despair, there’s the odd dash of cynicism here too.
The title track, which takes its lyrics from a Langston Hughes poem, is ultimately a celebration of life, but not before the protagonist has hit rock bottom. ‘I Smell Trouble’ is a powerful illustration of an internal battle between good and evil, while ‘Don’t Explain’ (featuring an excellent Linda Bull vocal) is a stunningly apathetic break-up song.
That song is just one example of how Kelly’s collaborators take his brilliant songs and lift them even further on Life Is Fine.
‘My Man’s Got A Cold’ is a primal piano blues stomper that has the band taking cues from later-era Tom Waits, while Vika Bull puts in a typically dominant performance as she outlines an affliction so many will relate to.
‘Rock Out On The Sea’ gallops at pace courtesy of an African-inspired groove, but manages to retain atmospheric qualities. And, all through the record, killer guitar riffs, energised rhythms and brilliant supporting backing vocals just make these songs pop.
There are tons of reason why Life Is Fine is a great record. But there are no more compelling than the fact that it’s Paul Kelly at his most astute, his most heartfelt and his most relatable. These songs will worm their way into your mind and sit proudly alongside his catalogue of classics for decades to come.