100 for 2000 – #44. Paul Kelly – Ways & Means

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2004 – #4. Paul Kelly – Ways & Means
(Capitol)

Eleven albums (kinda) and over 20 years since he first started, Paul Kelly made my favourite Paul Kelly albums. And I loved a lot of Paul Kelly albums before that. And this isn’t some sort of revisionist Time Out Of Mind thing. It is simply the most Paul Kelly of Paul Kelly albums, with a dash of fun, and big dollop of love and sans 80s production. It was also one of his best backing bands ever. Finally, Ways & Means was a generous, 21 track double album. It seemed like Kelly’s big statement and about little things.

Two things informed Kelly’s approach to this record. One was the desire to make a country/soul/rock album. I mean, that’s a big friggin tick from me right there. The second, stated in many interviews at the time, he wanted to write a love-gone-right album. This record, released when Kelly was 49, sizzles with sexual energy and loving abandon.

Ways & Means opens and closes with instrumentals, the only two on the album. Gunnamatta welcomes us to the record. It’s a surf music inspired piece that’s warm and inviting. It feels like we are being washed up on Australia’s shore, but that Australia is Kelly’s young and fanciful Australia. When the journey is all over, what feels like a ballroom waltz called Let’s Fall Again eases you out the door, a little more eager for adventure than you were before.

But even love gone right has parts that go wrong. That album cover sums it up – the lovers, and those who look on and hope for the same. The Oldest Story In the Book covers such a love triangle – two life long friends, and the pretty girl that comes into their lives. Two falls in love, the other leaves to write songs about the girl he never had. Classic Kelly.

Disc one is heavy loaded with potential hit singles – Heavy Thing is a Stonsey/soulful anthem about coming on strong. Wont You Come Around covers similar ground, impatience for love, and of asking and getting. Beautiful Feeling is such a great love song that friends of mine used it as their wedding song. Finally, Sure Got Me is a song I had the pleasure of living out. When I met someone, and they liked me too, and it all clicked, and it all worked, and this song kept playing on the stereo in my own head.

The backing band for this album are the Boon Companions, who feature Kelly’s nephew Dan,  the well loved and respected Luscombe brothers and Bill McDonald on bass. With so many songs, there is a loose, fun, first-idea-best-idea feel. They are having a blast, and it comes across. You can hear this best on To Be Good Takes A Long Time.

It’s not all light and good times. But even the sad songs come from a good place. Can’t Help You Now is a goodbye to someone, and being happy now that you are over them. Similarly, the person in You Broke A Beautiful Thing is not wallowing – he even says he’s not mad in the song. He’s just moving on, and making a positive step.

But it’s all about love (and sex). Your Lovin’ Is On My Mind, from disc 2, pretty much sums up the album. Young Lovers, Big Fine Girl…the celebration doesn’t end.

I’m not sure if there is a parallel, but my love of this record coincided with a new strength in my own personal life. Listening back to this album, and the memories these songs conjure up – they are good times. Maybe if I listened to more socially stable records, I would be happier?

A few years later, I got to work with the CEO of EMI, who was a big Paul Kelly fan. He loved some of these old stalwarts that I loved, but more importantly he treated them with respect, in a way no other major label in Australia does. Paul Kelly doesn’t sell a super amount of records, yet his label allowed him to release a double album. Even Red Hot Chili Peppers gets grief from their label about doing something like that. Anyway, when I left that job, I wrote that CEO a letter saying, in brief, thanks for the work and thanks for releasing Paul Kelly’s Ways & Means.

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