What was on your 2023 musical bingo card? Celine Dion fans protesting outside the Rolling Stone office? S Club 7 reuniting? Alan Fletcher, aka Dr Karl Kennedy from Neighbours releasing an Americana album? No, they weren’t on mine either, yet they’ve all come to fruition less than 50 days into the year.
After 27 years on our screens, we’re so used to Fletcher’s good-natured Australian lilt that it comes as something of a shock on his debut full-length album, The Point, to find that his vocals career from early Tom Waits with a touch of Willie Nelson on the title track, to a higher, softer register that has a dash of Tom Petty here, a lick of early John Prine there, on songs like ‘Hey You’.
In fact, Fletcher lists Prine as one of his key influences, having even performed Prine tribute concerts. His legacy can certainly be heard in how Fletcher wraps life’s big questions into soft and sad musings on romantic and familial relationships, told through stories of everyday domesticities and sprinkled with nips of social commentary.
He’s had the good sense to hold onto his Australian accent and candour, forgoing the winks and the wordplay for wordplay’s sake that you’d find in a country songwriters’ room with songs like ‘How Good Is Bed’. “The medicinal effect of lying horizontal is designed to cure all ills”, he counsels. Indeed.
On ‘Jack', he ponders the limits of that strange way we get to know our grandparents, having to rely on stories which may or may not have had a heavy retelling at the hands of time versus the limited face time we get with them. “Heard he was a soldier, he fought in the great war, for a 15-year old boy it wasn’t great at all…I don’t know what’s truth or fiction, fantasy or fact, but I heard a lot of stories about Jack”.
‘Somebody’ is a fun track that reminds the listener of Prine’s ‘In Spite of Ourselves’, in which he recounts that vital third character in every relationship, the ‘somebody’ who forgot to feed the dog, put down the seat, lock the door and turn the gas off, amongst other sins. Who is somebody? As Fletcher comments, “it’s best that we don’t know, cause if we find out, then somebody has to go”.
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The production is proper to its Americana self-proclamation, understated and elegant. However, Fletcher’s rock roots (he released a rock album with his band Waiting Room, who used to play a weekly residency at a Neighbours trivia night) can sometimes be heard very subtly in the odd bar or two, like in that quick guitar flicking on the opening of 'Fish and Whistle'.
Fletcher’s questions may be searching, but you never get the sense that he’s lost. It’s an attitude that he crystallises on the title track, ‘The Point', asking, “what is the point of getting on your knees and praying to someone you can never please? What is the point of trying to get forgiveness from someone you ain’t even met?” Like his influences, Fletcher is quietly confident enough of a wordsmith to know that it’s always the story, not the answer, that matters.