Rating: * * * * *
When Jan Hellriegel first emerged here back in the early 90s, being a female singer-songwriter with alternative rock sensibilities wasn't exactly an easy option. Sure, she got a profile and two fine albums (It's My Sin in 1992 and Tremble in 1995) out of a major label deal. But they generated little momentum and Hellriegel eventually flagged music for a steadier income and motherhood.
But feeling she still had something to say and to prove, she's written and recorded a third.
And though the assumption could be that a 14-year gap - and the album title - might have rendered her a kinder, gentler version of her stroppy, pouty younger self, that's clearly not the case. Certainly, this comes with thoughtful ballads, one or two songs with rhythms that verge on "jazzy" and at least one slice of airy jangle-pop that could be employed for lullaby duties.
But the much bigger impression is just how much fire there is to most everything here - Hellriegel's singing and her words; the playing; and an ambitious production which delivers a seamless transition between punchy guitar-scorched rock tracks and symphonic pop.
This is one big, bold record - and it is available on vinyl - rather than some semi-retirement afterthought. And its confident swagger is apparent right from the get-go, as the chiming waltz-time opener of 10 Years And 47 Minutes gives away to the churning guitars of Misadventure. From there it swings neatly from sweetness to scorch - often within the confines of one track. Filled Me Up goes from jangle ballad into major rifferama; Orange Liqueur does baroque piano things before getting its own guitar power surge.
Elsewhere, the rock gives way to grander designs. Middle of the Morning is a lusty, languid ballad while 2X2 starts off all keyboard patter and Latin percolations building to one of many indelible pop hooks. There's a big slab of anguish running through much of this, at its most apparent on the melodramatic minor-key piano-powered He's Gone on which Hellriegel's voice proves to be a deeper, darker instrument than her early years.
Some of the later songs - including that aforementioned potential lullaby Under the Stars and the gently jazzy Heaven Is Here - give this album a final quarter which feels like a premature happy ending.
But Goodbye Adieu saves the album's biggest lump of heartache for last, complete with Beatlesque chorale and - with Eddie Rayner's fairydust piano - a vintage Split Enz-styled wig-out to fade.
It's a terrific end to a set that's not only Hellriegel's best album yet but one of the year's best local releases.