Steve Kilbey and the Winged Heels Make Creative Surplus On Musically Vast ‘The Hall of Counterfeits’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Co-founder and long-time mainstay of The Church since its inception in 1980, bassist/vocalist/composer Steve Kilbey has also loyally followed his muse in a variety of different directions between the Australian band’s projects. Within the last year alone he’s released Eleven Women in September of 2020 and in March of this year issued his collaboration with Martin Kennedy Jupiter 13. Prolific as ever, Kilbey has a new band called The Winged Heels with whom he recorded a  double album The Hall of Counterfeits.

This quartet may not possess the lush mammoth sound of the Church a la their best-known tune, “Under The Milky Way,” or 1982’s The Blurred Crusade, but it’s not that far from it either, even with Gareth Koch’s classical and flamenco guitar at the forefront (along with a host of other stringed ethnic instruments). Yet as suggested by “Arcadia,” the very first track (and others further along the tracklist), there are simply too many similarities on too many cuts over the roughly two-hour album duration for Kilbey to completely avoid comparisons to his main occupation. And maybe he just doesn’t want to: on that opener, deeply reverberating instrumental and sound effects interwoven into an arrangement topped with his own heavily echoed vocal certainly dovetail with a readily recognizable style (at least to Church fans). In the long run, it’s something Steve can be proud of. 

Especially because there are more than a few selections here like “Swinging On The Moon” that digress from guitar-heavy sounds, solidified through Barton Price’s propulsive drumming. The recurring prominence of Roger Mason’s grand piano on that latter cut is further proof positive, yet the electric chording intermixed with acoustics is, again, plenty familiar and pleasantly so. But even as the eerie touches of the keyboardist’s cello there also compel the notion this all could’ve been done with the Church, “Karnak,” is much more of an exercise in the exotic, its Turkish folk elements slowly unfurling over a halting rhythm with background vocals less fulsome harmonies than odd falsetto chants.

The Hall of Counterfeits unfurls through cycles of such contrasts between tracks. Handfuls of cuts seem sequenced for sides of a vinyl LP (in which configuration this title is not available) and there’s just enough variety to keep the listening interesting if not wholly engrossing; witness the tangible evidence of Kilbey’s self-avowed debt to the Beatles in the form of “I’ve Been Here Before;” where languid Indian tonalities invoke the unmistakable influence of the late George Harrison, albeit not to slavishly imitative effect.

The rapid succession of three-to-five minute tracks furthers that recurring circular effect. And wisely, there’s one selection within each grouping that’s more rather than less accessible, clearly designed to ground the listening experience as happens with “Brass Razoo.” That said, Kilbey, who co-produced with engineer Andrew Beck, might have allowed the Winged Heels to stretch out more, at least sometimes: if The Hall of Counterfeits lacks anything to make it truly excellent (rather than just very good), it is the grand drama of such an extended performance. Or a truly great song, one more thing missing here despite the frontman’s well-honed inclination to match evocative combinations of words with comparably moody, haunting melodies—see “Euphoric Recall,” like “Amorous Plethora” or “Tantric Hammer.”  

To Steve’s great credit and that of his disciplined band. he refuses to belabor the potency of such blends. And it is no small achievement to leave the listener happily wanting a bit more rather than feeling satiated. This cosmopolitan English-born artist certainly could’ve easily put together a readily-accessible piece of work consisting of recordings like the infectious“I Wish,” so he deserves additional kudos for his willingness to challenge his own imagination, that of his accompanists and the music lovers including, but not limited to, long-time fans of his virtually non-stop creative pursuits.


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