"The Catholic in me isn't all the way out yet", Jeff Kelly sings during the title track to his latest solo release Indiscretion, an album that has a painting of the Virgin Mary on its cover and is infused at every moment with the guilt, repression and fear that came from being raised Catholic. Sex, death, killing in the name of religion...all the weighty topics are here, articulated in a way that is less an explosion of anger towards Catholicism than a realization and thorough description of the negative effects that growing up into that religion can have on a person's well-being.
The title song is a blazing rock anthem about feeling guilty for sexual relationships outside of marriage. Kelly expresses regret and lust at the same time, acknowledging the inevitability of sexual attraction while conveying the guilt about sex that accompanies a religious upbringing. Sexual feelings and the religious repression of them are at the center of a few tracks here, and lurking in the shadows of others. In “Ambrosio’s Song (She Looks Like Mary)”, Kelly entwines sexual desire with the desire to be saved, confusing the two, as he lusts after a woman who looks like the Virgin Mary (“how could I deny the mother of God”, he sings). “Somebody’s Daughter”, with the chorus “She might be somebody’s daughter / but she isn’t mine”, represents a semi-confident attempt to get comfortable with lust, to defend it. The song has a warped hook with a sound that should be familiar to fans of the Green Pajamas, the eternally underrated psychedelic power-pop band which Kelly leads.
Musically, this album resembles the Green Pajamas a lot, except for a few more adventuresome passages, like the dance beats running underneath “Mrs. Newton” or the intense orchestral climax to the album’s final track “His Soul to Take”. Like most Green Pajamas albums, there’s a mix here between catchy-as-hell pop/rock anthems and more dreamy, slower waltzes, dirges and ballads. While the reason it is in his name is obviously because he plays all the songs on it and the other band members are not present, it also makes sense that these songs are on a “Jeff Kelly” album and not a Green Pajamas album because the material feels so personal. The songs are less based in myth and story than Green Pajamas’ songs, even while they confront a religion filled with myths and stories. Indiscretion is what happens when myths and stories are drilled into children as fact; this is what happens when young believers grow up and have to deal with the aftermath.
While the “Catholic block” about sex is a recurring theme here, there are other arguably more serious topics, subjects regarding life and death. “The Jailer’s Song”, with its “look at the sky / the witch is burning” chorus, deals seriously with the ways religion can be used to silence, suppress and kill. “The White Witch” describes the ghost of a witch while also chronicling the search for knowledge that comes along with the realization that what you were given as fact while young might not jibe with the world you see around you as an adult. That attempt to understand the world and reconcile it with the sometimes bizarre things you were taught as a child is at the heart of this whole undertaking. It is the fuel that drives Kelly to explore so many effects of Catholicism in such a detailed and emotional way.
“I know I’ve done nothing wrong /what if they find out what I’ve done”, Kelly sings during “The Jailer’s Song”. That seeming conundrum is a quite astute encapsulation of the emotional aftermath of Catholicism, the inescapable feeling that you’re doing something wrong in the eyes of God, even if inside you know you have nothing to feel guilty about. Getting those feelings out, and trying to deconstruct the roots of them, is the task Kelly has taken on with Indiscretion, and he pulls it off artfully enough to make this an extremely powerful work of art that stands strongly in a catalogue filled with intelligent and pleasurable musical works.
// Notes from the Road
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