Covering everyone from Public Image Ltd. to OPUS and Momu.
Kirin J Callinan has built his career on inimitability, so to follow up the profound poignancy of Embracism (2013) and Bravado (2017) with an album of covers seems totally left of field. But the unexpectedness of Return To Center in itself is quintessential Kirin J Callinan.
Despite comprising a collection of ‘80s pop renderings, Return To Center is not a straightforward covers album. Callinan embarked on the album with an ambitious goal: spend his entire budget on instruments at Guitar Center and take full advantage of the store’s 14-day return policy by recording the album within that timeframe and taking the instruments back for a full refund. A literal Return To (Guitar) Center.
The album marches in with a rendition of OPUS’ ‘Live is Life’ so triumphant you can almost see Callinan standing with his shoulders pulled back and chest jutted out against the glorious booms of synth.
“Hell hath no fury like an insecure Australian,” he purrs in an up-tempo folk rendering of Momus’ ‘The Homosexual’ so intrinsic it could easily be mistaken for a Callinan original.
Return To Center isn’t some half-assed attempt to release a new record without having to exert any creativity, either. Each song appears carefully selected and Callinan fully embodies each one to do them justice while adding his own flare.
The album’s title track, ‘Return To Center’, serves as the record’s only original. The improvised instrumental piece sits like a true centrepiece, juxtaposing understated, serene licks of guitar with the manic laughter of Callinan, recorded while he was pinned down and tickled without mercy.
Callinan offers another slice of himself through his cover of Public Image Ltd. hit ‘Rise’, sprinkled with news clips detailing his scandalous ARIA flashing incident. “Apparently you are well known, but not to me. You are not special,” reads a particular report, quoting the stern magistrate who determined Callinan’s punishment for the incident.
Melding a jovial beat with the heavy-hearted sentiments of the track’s lyrics detailing the major social issues of the ‘80s – the Apartheid in South Africa and religious conflicts in Ireland – Callinan’s inclusion of his own brush with the law adds another layer to the already emotionally evocative track.
Flitting between anthemic pop and fuzzed out rock, Return To Center is a testament to Callinan’s sonic dexterity. For an album mostly made up of covers, it is unassumingly honest, personal and, well, a lot of fun.