Something for Kate have been perennial favourites of the Australian rock music scene for two decades or so, and throughout their career guitarist and vocalist, Paul Dempsey, has been the face of the group, building a solid fan base for both the band and himself in the process. As is often the case when a particular band member is the sole, or predominate, songwriter in a group, it proves difficult to tell where Something for Kate ended and Dempsey began. Dempsey struck out under his own name in 2009 with Everything Is True, a collection of folk-rock inflected tunes, and again in 2013 with Shotgun Karaoke, a compilation of acoustic covers.
The True Sea opens the latest collection of original songs from Dempsey, Strange Loop, in strong fashion, with the song swelling over its seven and a half minute duration, building from organ and gentle guitar to finally being anchored by a swirling guitar riff. Each listen is more rewarding than the last, and the repeated refrain “she makes the ocean seem like a drop in the ocean” is immensely catchy, in no small part a result of the delivery. The percussive strings of Idiot Oracle bring to mind the meditative grooves of Dawn of Midi, but applied to a more conventional song structure, and Hey History (Don’t Go Changin’) sounds like it could be an outtake from Something for Kate’s 2006 album, Desert Lights.
Single, Morningless, sets saxophone against guitar to interesting effect, and is certainly the stronger for it. Bounding, arpeggiated, guitar chords propel Lifetime Supply, demonstrating that Dempsey knows how to use his instrumentation, while Iris Black – an exploration of dementia – handles its subject matter with such delicacy and sweetness that it cements Dempsey’s position as a lyricist of note. For all that is on display with Strange Loop, I’m still not sure what – besides the absence of Stephanie Ashworth and Clint Hyndman – would prevent this from being a Something for Kate album. That isn’t a bad thing, and Dempsey has said “the solo stuff is not only solitary, it’s liberating; there’s less talking, less discussion, less debate,” so perhaps the difference between Paul Dempsey and Something for Kate is process. Perhaps asking what that difference is, is the point.