Kirin J Callinan: Return to Center (Terrible) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

Kirin J Callinan

Return to Center

Terrible

Jun 20, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


The mark of any good covers album is when the artist is able to take the songs and put their individual stamp on them. (Otherwise it's just karaoke, right?) There are few personalities within the current indie rock landscape as individual as Australian rabble-rouser Kirin J Callinan and thankfully, his covers record wears his personality all over it.

A collection of 12 songs that are among what Callinan considers his "nearest and dearest," even Return to Center's best-known selections were not big chart performers in the United States. Thus, for many American listeners the songs will be mostly free of having to compete with their original versions. Still, it takes little more than a quick trip to Spotify or YouTube to reveal the vast liberties Callinan has takenthere's hardly a track where he hasn't magnified some element or another to near-overblown proportions, but to stunning effect. For the LP's first single he reimagines The Waterboys' "The Whole of the Moon" as a piece of grandiloquent pop, making the 1985 signature version sound relatively restrained in comparison, taking an already great song and turning it into something absolutely massive yet emotionally moving.

His take on Laibach's "Life is Life" opens with the sort of over-the-top fanfare normally reserved only for Dolby surround sound tests, morphing it into something that's worlds away from the aggressive grumbling of the original and closer to the melodramatic, motivational power ballad you'd hear playing over a Rocky training montage. As the new narrator of Momus' "The Homosexual," Callinan's vocal performance drips equal parts seduction and malice; he wisely forsakes the source's dated synth production for sultry acoustic accompaniment. A Bowie-esque theatricality runs across this entire record, with Callinan showing a knack for knowing how far exaggeration can be pushed before it turns gratuitous. That line is toed with razor precision: meticulousness under a skillful guise of recklessness.

It's likely the most well-known song covered on the record is "Rise," the 1986 hit written by a similarly cheeky provocateur in Mr. John Lydon (for his band Public Image Ltd). Heavily weaving in news clips from shocked TV anchors following Callinan's flashing of his wee-wee on the red carpet of Australian music's biggest awards show, he takes a song that was about apartheid and transforms it into one about Callinan himself. It's a five-minute master class in cunningly calculated self-indulgence: in this single recording, he effectively punctuates his infamous incident of indecent exposure with a Steve Urkel-esque "Did I do that?" It would be excruciating were Callinan not so keenly aware of the buttons he's pushing. It's a self-awareness that makes the antagonism seem oddly profound.

Considering how much Callinan has done with these songs, Return to Center may as well be a collection of originals. However, by so adroitly re-interpreting older material the oft-experimental Callinan has yielded a record that's his most approachable yet, but does not sacrifice any of what makes him such a unique musical figure. (www.facebook.com/kirinjcallinan

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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