Liam Kenny, of the stellar bands Bitch Prefect, Peak Twins, Silly Joel & the Candymen and The Friendsters, has released his first solo record. In the great tradition of Saturday night karaoke/OD’ing on saki wine, he has re-iterpretated underrated classics from the likes of Leonard Cohen, Billy Idol, and Bob Dylan, amongst others. And when I write re-interpret, I mean soulfully collapse and rebuild, and when I write underrated classics, I mean songs I wish someone had introduced me to a hell of while earlier.
Cover bands are a strange anomaly, in that they can either be a cheap way of watching someone else do a better job than the real thing could do themselves (hats off to SPOD’s Bon Voyage). Or it can be a depressing reminder that your local pub is stocked with the desperate lameshits trying to reclaim their youth by repeatedly yelling “Born to Be Wild” into a microphone like a wildebeest has clamped its jaw around their genitals. And then, there’s that weird grey area where someone re-interprets a classic for the better, something that bands have managed to do really well sometimes (like here and here) or fuck up completely other times.
But here, Liam Kenny does a fine job of taking songs and reworking them into completely soul-shattering ballads. He’s always had a very diverse body of work, whether slyly thumping drums with sunnies adorned to slimy punk, or cranking rickety guitars to gutter-observations of Australian lifestyle, and spitting rhymes about how all music sucks. But on ‘A Kenny For Your Thoughts’, he flits between styles as organically as our government can embarrass our nation. The fact that he’s picked less obvious artists, instead of gravitating to the usual “Hallelujah” and “My Sharona”, makes it all the more worthwhile.
The thing that seemed to get a lot of people (including my stumpy, ginger self) excited was Kenny’s take on “Avalanche” by Leonard Cohen. Featuring saxophone by Al Montfort (Total Control, The UV Race, all the bands ever), the track is six-minutes of industrial, back-breaking terror, scorned guitars gnashing the flesh from your ears. It’s hollow and terrifying, staring into the eye of the beast whilst he devours your soul. It’s a mesh of colour and flavour, grinded to an almost incomprehensible carnivorous version from the original.
However, “Avalanche” and its tumultuous face-chewing is the outlier of the record. The rest of the record is devoted to mostly calmer, regarded interpretations. There’s the dainty sci-fi of “Eyes Without A Face”, a plodding unsure cover of Billy Idol, and an off-kilter “It’s All Over Now (Baby Blue)” which will make you soul crack faster than Kenny’s voice does. That finale makes you want to crawl into a fetal position and just listen to this trickling synth-laced track until you turn into the ghoul from Tales From the Crypt.
In saying all this, the themes of each song remain intact in the hands of Liam Kenny. The opener of Neil Young’s “I’m the Ocean” still retains all the hurt and power as Young had in his crackling 1995 original. The slow-build into schizophrenic noise territory just accentuates the ideas of being misplaced, and Kenny’s ability to thrust into each lyric makes them stand out just as much as when Neil Young was doing them in the first place. Whilst Kenny has taken creative liberties, he never removes the original ida from any song.
This Friday night, when you’re counting down the days until NRL season starts again, and you’re pounding a Reschs, look at the local Fleetwood Mac cover band. Then think back to what Liam Kenny has done on this LP. In his own unassuming way, he has delivered one hell of a varied, and worthy debut from such an accomplished musician.
‘A Kenny For Your Thoughts’ available through it Records now.