In a year like 2020, Eleven Women is not the sort of record you would expect to hear. While musicians are locked up at home with time on their hands, one would assume that new albums would be laboured over for months on end. Steve Kilbey, however, is here to rage against that very notion.
First previewed via an Instagram performance in early May, Eleven Women arrives as Kilbey’s first solo album since 2018, and the fourth new record he’s performed on this year. Despite this purple patch of creativity, the acclaimed Church frontman hadn’t planned for a new solo album. In fact, he’d scheduled in time spent touring the world and making a new record with his bandmates.
After time in lockdown saw him revisiting his past accomplishments, a desire to create new material saw Kilbey pen the 11 tracks that make up the aptly-titled Eleven Women.
Recorded over just three days, with little more than two takes making up each tune, the album is an exercise in the immediate, capturing both Kilbey and his accompanying musicians performing tracks while they’re still fresh.
The result is one of the most pure records you’ll find anywhere. From the opening notes of “Poppy Byron”, it’s apparent that Kilbey has delivered something transcendental; something that only someone with a musical dexterity and vision like he can provide.
Serving as a musical kaleidoscope of sorts, the album switches genres frequently, shifting between the mandolin-driven sweetness of “Josephine”, the ’60s-inspired psychedelia of “Woman Number Nine”, and the hazy, dream-like nature of “Lillian in Cerulean Blue”.
Meanwhile, the lyrics stay true to the concept of the title, with each track focusing on a feminine subject, whether it be via lyrics about Mary Shelley watching SBS in Mandarin on “Poppy Byron”, the story of evil witch “Doris McAllister”, or “Birdeen”, which, a press release notes, focuses on a greedy lorikeet with a sweet tooth.
As Kilbey himself notes, Eleven Women is far from perfect record by any means, but in much the same way that even iconic renaissance painting have notable flaws, therein lies the beauty of this.
Eleven Women is a document of the year that is, with Kilbey creating a record that is immediate, raw, rough, and above all, genuine. In no way would it be the same mesmerising listen that it is had each and every bar been laboured over for hours, sucking the life out of it, and replacing it with something so pristine and perfect that it lacks any semblance of reality.
Eleven Women is Steve Kilbey showcasing his worth as a powerful, prolific performer, and the Australian music scene has benefited greatly. While Kilbey notes he hopes to record more albums like this in the future, we can only hope that the wait for such a project will not be too long.
Steve Kilbey’s Eleven Women is available now via Foghorn/MGM.