Recording information: Trackdown Studios, Sydney.
Ever since Chris Bailey became the uncontested leader of the Saints after the departure of co-founder Ed Kuepper, it's been hard to know what to expect from the band when a new album emerges -- will Bailey be in the mood for glossy pop, stripped-down rock & roll, contemplative folk-rock, or something else altogether? It seems Bailey decided he didn't have to settle for just one way to approach the songs that formed the 2012 album King of the Sun. A song cycle that purportedly deals with a soldier making his way home after the Hundred Years' War (though the lyrics are often ambiguous), the melodies on King of the Sun are simple yet strong and graceful, Bailey's vocals are smoky but full of easy authority, and the arrangements are evocative and cinematic, mostly built around acoustic guitars and keyboards, with horns and strings providing additional texture on many tracks. However, for King of the Sun's 2014 international release on Fire Records, Bailey has paired the album with King of the Midnight Sun, which features the same 11 songs re-recorded with a lean rock & roll band, featuring guitarist Barrington Francis and drummer Peter Wilkinson (both of whom play in Bailey's touring version of the Saints but don't appear on the 2012 set). King of the Midnight Sun leans on electric guitars instead of the more baroque arrangements on the original set, remaking the folk-rock album into a no-frills electric rock LP. By itself, King of the Sun is a skillful exercise in folk-rock that's arty without seeming pretentious; paired with King of the Midnight Sun, it's an unusual experiment in the many ways a band can approach its material. ~ Mark Deming