It’s tempting to write a review of Kasey Chambers’s new album, Bittersweet, that is loaded with superlatives and not much else. Not because it’s a perfect album – if there even is such a thing – but because it’s her best album in a career full of truly exceptional albums. It may not be my favourite of her albums – yet – but anyone who knows her work could recognise that this album is a progression from the last (Little Bird) just as that album was a progression from the one before that and so on, back to the start: The Captain. Each album shows progression not just in the stories told – in a life unfolding through song, amongst other things – but in the way the songs are delivered and in how authoritative Kasey sounds when singing them.
Kasey has always produced albums that break your heart and then mend it, maybe because we can hear her breaking and mending her own heart over and over again. On this album, in the song, ‘I Would Do’, she makes the breaking explicit: ‘I’ll do it till a heart breaks/If that what it takes/Until my heart breaks/If that what it takes/Until my heart breaks/If that’s what it takes’. It takes until the title track, ‘Bittersweet’ – sung with Bernard Fanning – for the mending to become clear, and further still in ‘I’m Alive’, when she sings about being given another chance and having enough stories to fill a mansion.
As an album, this collection of songs is possibly Kasey’s most cohesive since The Captain. Previous albums have contained extraordinary songs and some that weren’t ordinary, exactly, but just not extraordinary. Kasey’s bar is always set high and not all of her songs can make it, but they’re all worth listening to. That is true of Bittersweet, too, except that this album is not just cohesive but solid. There is a sense of Kasey delivering a message, and perhaps the key is in that final song.’I’m Alive’ – after a difficult time in her personal life (which fans will know about but which is only relevant to a review because it has shaped some of her lyrics), she is here, and not just alive but vibrant, defiant, creative and strong.
This is the first of Kasey’s albums that have not been produced by her brother, Nash Chambers, and this is another progression. Not because Nash hasn’t been a great producer for her, but because the more steps Kasey takes towards believing that her monumental talent stands alone – that she does not need any family members to bolster it or coax it out of her – the better. She doesn’t need anyone else to bring her songs fully to life – she just needs to believe in herself more. Bittersweet sounds like a step – a leap, a bound – in that direction. For that reason, as well as because of the songs she gives us, it may become my favourite Kasey Chambers album yet. There is, of course, the remarkable, wonderful prospect that there will be new candidates for that title one day.
Bittersweet is out now through Warner Music Australia.