Published Jun 18, 2019Kirin J. Callinan's output usually oscillates between irony and sincerity with vulgar glee. The Australian singer-songwriter and provocateur has courted controversy over the last couple of years, including a guilty plea of indecent exposure at the ARIA awards, following the release of his sophomore effort Bravado.
In its mishmash of sounds, including EDM and pop, Bravado demonstrated Callinan's willingness to create daring and knowingly ambiguous music that somehow lacks any cynicism. Yet, on Return to Center, the singer confronts his recent controversies, and in turn allows space for emotional conviction.
What separates this covers album from others is his ability to elevate the songs he chooses. Though the tracklist could be seen as adhering to the current obsession with '80s nostalgia, Callinan's bold performances make these songs totally the artist's own.
"Life Is Life," by Austrian reggae band Opus, opens the album with grandiose synthesizers reminiscent of chiptune. Unlike the low-key original, Callinan's version is triumphant and life-affirming. Similarly, "Whole of the Moon," a cover of the Waterboys hit, is instantly more compelling than the original. The production drips with vintage synthesizers, while Callinan's jubilant vocals reach into his upper register.
On "Rise" by Public Image Ltd., Callinan confronts his public controversies by sampling news commentary about his lewd behaviour amongst a warbling guitar wash. It's a rare moment where Callinan shows some vulnerability, as he confronts the fallibility of his on-stage persona: "I could be wrong, I could be right."
Although the first half of this album is extremely strong and full of character, the last few tracks seem somewhat redundant. "Signed Curtain" works as a well-crafted shoegaze track, but it's not the kind of exuberance one should expect from Callinan. Meanwhile, the closing cover of "Vienna" by Ultravox feels far too close to the original to add anything.
Return to Center is a robust effort from Kirin J. Callinan following the controversy that has greeted his entrance into public life. By demonstrating the passion with which he performs these songs, as well as the inventive instrumentation, Callinan has reaffirmed the sincerity in his music that is so often elided by his provocative image. (Terrible)