Album Review: Paul Kelly – Nature

Even though Kelly indicated in his last album that life is fine, it is also short. These songs are linked together with a theme of nature, the force of nature, the imagery of nature, not only the elemental world, but also capturing themes of renewal and death. The renewal in this album can’t be understated –  the songs seem to express a feeling of love renewed, a revitalisation of the love of living, but also a consciousness of one’s inevitable mortality.

Love with death’s hand lurking on your shoulder. 

Imagine if dead poets could sing? If their words could be formulated into music, into tunes, breathing life and poignancy to the page? Paul Kelly’s Nature transforms five poems into song, and feature seven newly minted Kelly tracks. These songs are short. But they don’t distract or diminish their power or their immense beauty.

The Dylan Thomas poem ‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’ starts proceedings – a poem pondering that the human soul can not be  conquered or destroyed by death. This song poem sets the tone of the album – the cycle of love and death in an Earth that doesn’t stop spinning, with all the seasons and volatility of the elements providing a backdrop of life.

‘With the One I Love’ follows the Dylan Thomas poem and still the inevitability of death lurks – with Kelly singing, “Pretty soon we’ll all be dust”, however in this case, it’s a song about love renewed. With life being so short, Kelly might have found someone that makes him feel real again. He is insistent that he will make a break and blindly follow his heart “I’m gonna leave my darling ones/And go where I’m nobody’s child/Yes I know I am beguiled/I’m gonna go with the one I love” – he won’t be judged, and the accompanying video to this song shows Kelly in a court room witness box defiantly remaining firm in a court room full of chaos. Life is short, life is fine, and sometimes you have to follow your heart.

‘Little Wolf’ is one of those devious Kelly songs, which highlights Kelly’s strength in writing about sex. “Little Wolf, I wait, and listen at my door/For your scratch in the night and the touch of your paw/Come to me quick, bring your hot breath” – could it be that the one he loves is also fucking with his mind with all those cascading feelings of sex, longing and the unknown? This song has a sinister yet beautiful string arrangement and is definitely a highlight on this album.

‘Seagulls of Seattle’ is a song  juxtaposed with love and place. The association of love given greater depth due to the romanticism of place – from Seattle to Spain, from swimming in water and later being “entwined” with your lover. ‘Morning Storm’ is where nature and love finally superimpose in a tempestuous fashion, featuring imagery of clouds, storms, sky, and rain – interlinking with the cycle of life, love and death. Where the bed is a place of birth, comfort, for fucking and for dying. This song is one of Kelly’s most poetic, where the elements of nature and transience of life are written so poignantly, with Kelly singing “This room is the world, our bed is the Earth/Nothing else is, here’s all death and birth“. Beautiful.

The vision of death comes into the shape of Kate Miller-Heidke in ‘Bound to Follow”, as a dream vision , where the beautiful, mysterious siren seduces Kelly to enter the “silver lake”, with Kelly knowing one day that he “will follow”. The metaphor of death as a beautiful woman with Miller-Heidke providing angelic sweeping vocals reminiscent of Kate Bush or Liz Fraser.

Kelly has always been able to write about Australian characters with such sensitivity and insight. Again, he excels with ‘A Bastard Like Me’, a song about the indigenous activist and trailblazer Charlie Perkins – this tribute to Perkins encompasses the nature theme with imagery of the bush, sea, wind, desert and hills, but also in the whirlwind there is Perkins himself – a force of nature– a man that constantly rattled and forced this country to look squarely into the mirror,  to clearly see the injustices  inflicted on our indigenous people. Lyrically Kelly takes this song from the perspective of Perkins, encapsulating the strength of Perkins character in the line “Call me a stray, a dog everyday/Call me a mongrel half-breed/Them mongrels are strong, so if you take me on/Watch out for a bastard like me”.

Paul Kelly has always been known for his dark humour, and I understand why he would love the famous American poet Walt Whitman’s ‘With Animals’ –  a misanthrope’s anthem! Why not live with animals that aren’t “demented with the mania of owning things”? When has a dog ever wanted an iPhone?

The theme of force of nature, encompasses the Sylvia Plath’s ‘Mushrooms’ – a poem that seems to make more sense in this #metoo movement. A poem that on the surface could be about mushrooms – however, it could also be a metaphor about women – the power of women that deserve respect and to be heard, “We shall by morning/Inherit the Earth/Our foot’s in the door/So many of us“. Women as a force of nature. Watch out Trump!

Conceptually this album works, where there is something otherworldly about it. It seems to question the existence of nature and the forces of nature, the human soul, the cycle of birth and death, and of the beauty of being alive, in love, but also the gravity of the inevitable. Paul Kelly has produced a work that interlinks the poetic with far reaching questions about our existence. Love surely conquers all, but can the human soul really conquer death?  We live in a mysterious world immersed in nature, seasons, the pull of the moon and the tides.

Nature is an album of excellence, and further cements Kelly’s reputation as one of our best songwriters. Enjoy this album and all its mysteries.

Nature is out now.


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