I’ve been a Cat Empire fan since their hit ‘Hello’, and have loved their distinctive Australian take on ska and jazz. The Cat Empire have toured the world countless times, and their music is loved internationally for the band’s stupendous brass lines, keyboard finesse and thrifty use of vinyl scratching. Front-man Felix Riebl has been the mastermind behind the majority of the band’s success, with his charismatic performance style and intelligent song-writing.
But, following on from the band’s successful 2016 album Rising with the Sun, Felix has decided to go solo once more and release a second album. Paper Doors, released 2nd September 2016, may be short (totalling only 37 minutes), but certainly has a great variety of content. With guest artists including the likes of Emily Lubitz, Katy Steele and Martha Wainwright, it is certainly nice to hear a more intimate canvas for Felix to sing with.
I do find that Paper Doors takes a while to warm up, with some of the better songs coming much later in the 10 track album. ‘Shadows’ is a ripper of a tune, with a cheeky organ riff running throughout. The song is probably the most Cat Empire-sounding of the lot, with the blaring horns in the bridge and simple harmonising vocals in the chorus, but the punchy use of bass guitar and the electric guitar doodles at the outro distinguish the piece as Felix’s own style. I can see ‘Shadows’ possibly becoming the Top 40 hit that this album deserves.
‘Crocodiles’ is a rather dark number, with a toms groove and double bass ostinato driving the piece into the unknown. Felix’s vocals are menacing in the verses, but his distinctive tone comes out in the choruses, as he sings out “Timor-Leste”. ‘Ecstasy’ also stands out with the muffled use of drum kit and dreamy keyboard and guitar parts, such that Felix’s vocals definitely sit in the foreground. His syncopated melody is surprisingly catchy, and I would love to witness how Felix would perform this live.
Felix’s vocals blend very nicely with Katy Steele in ‘Wasting Time’, and the punchy snare provides a nice oomph over the cascading backing vocal figure. I do feel as though there are ideas that could have been explored further in the song, but it still works as it is. ‘All I Can Say’ is also nice, with a pleasant saxophone solo and an ensemble of backing singers, but I do find the chorus cheesy with the repetitive harmonisation of the same phrase. However, the use of harmonised brass with the same punchy snare as ‘Wasting Time’ is likely to be popular to an everyday listener.
‘Paper Doors’ builds us into the album, employing what my bandmates refer to as “the Coldplay Effect” to build up the instrumentation until a final, climactic chorus. I can’t help feeling a bit let down by the build, expecting perhaps a rockier finish. There are other anti-climaxes throughout the album, like ‘Out Where You Are’, which sounds like a cheesy kids’ TV show theme, as a bunch of our favourite explorers venture into the jungle! ‘Snowflakes’ also falls flat, with the main glockenspiel and piano melody becoming monotonous, and the vocalists lacking much razzamatazz with their performance.
So, overall, Paper Doors is a bit of a hit-and-miss album. Felix’s mixed bag of song-writing style is definitely on display, with very contrasting styles to his Cat Empire successes. He is clearly an Australian vocalist who is here to be reckoned with, but does he have the capacity to be matched against Jimmy Barnes, Iggy Azealia and The Wiggles? He might not quite be there yet, but it will be interesting to see what Felix has in store for us in the future!