The Wilderness Years is Steve Kilbey and Ricky Maymi’s idea of a joke, and it’s a pretty good joke too. Steve Kilbey apparently joins David Neil - an obscure failed rock star, for a U.S. tour in 1974. Soon after Neil has the “dubious distinction of dying three deaths at once.” The songs on this album are supposedly Neil’s songs that have been resurrected from unfinished tracks and lyric books. Never mind that below the hilarious liner notes it states – all songs: Kilbey/Maymi. For a brief moment at the record store they had me fooled.
So being a huge fan of both The Church (from where Kilbey hails, if you didn’t know) and The Brian Jonestown Massacre (Maymi) it was a given that I’d be taking this particular record home. Unsurprisingly this record is a total gem. The songwriting is superb and it really does come across as a combination of their respective bands, although the sound does lean more towards that of The Church. Guitars chime and jangle, Kilbey sings with his bedside baritone and the melodies are superb, but also many of the songs have that slightly ramshackle chug that the BJM do so well.
Of the ten songs Hollywood Ending is an early highlight, with insistent vocals and fast acoustic rhythms giving way to a blissed out reverie and then back again. Walk With Me (note - the song is miss-labelled on this video) follows and it’s a classic. Kilby’s singing is pleading and intimate and the female back up vocals are perfect. The other three tracks on side one are just as enjoyable and are typical of the songwriting consistency displayed by Kilbey over the years.
Side two begins with piano and the blissed-out country guitar stylings of Higher Than Yesterday. The tune has a melancholic feel and as usual with anything Kilbey writes it has quality lyrics. Lowboy is my favourite and it’s catchy as hell. It comes across as a lost Church song and that is the great thing about this LP – it reminds me of the early to mid period Church albums before they got all atmospheric with Priest = Aura (1992). I really hope that Kilbey writes more songs with Maymi, as they obviously bring out the best in each other.
The Equator is a bittersweet lament with a perfect blend of acoustic and electric instruments and a nice backwards guitar interlude. Was There Ever features superb vocal interplay coupled with a minor key shuffle and slide guitar. The album ends with So Long, another classic of bittersweet understatement.
If you are a Kilbey/Church fan then this LP is an essential purchase. The album is one of those that you can play right through without worrying about having to skip a track or two. It’s beautifully produced – warm and full with no sign of the over the top compression that spoils new releases these days (something you can blame on MP3s). The vinyl copy is a limited edition blood red pressing – check it out, it’s beautiful and you know you need it.