When Chris Bailey stopped using the Saints moniker in 1989, he was just coming clean; all of the Saints’ 1980s albums were truly solo records, using a constant but revolving cast of backing characters. The actual Saints had not existed since the late ’70s, when guitarist/songwriter Ed Kuepper split from the Australian group that had blazed its country’s punk trail.
Bailey’s first two solo albums date from those ’80s Saints days. In fact, Casablanca consists of Bailey’s voice-and-guitar demos for 1982’s Out in the Jungle, and was released against his wishes. Good thing, though: three excellent originals were not re-recorded for that LP, and the stark presentation enlivens a batch of folk/blues troubadour covers.
The authorized What We Did on Our Holidays is also no big deal. As indicated by its title, Bailey was just having some fun — with one exception, it’s all covers. Half of it is acoustic folk and blues, the other full-band soul raveups, a good workout for Bailey’s rich voice. The CD adds eight of Casablanca‘s twelve songs.
Seventeen years into his career, Demons is the first proper Bailey solo album released as such. And it’s largely an improvement on Prodigal Son, the good but overproduced album that ended the Saints’ nominal career in 1988. The title track, “Marquis of Queensbury,” “Running Away From Home” and others may not recall the heights of the Saints’ A Little Madness to Be Free and All Fools Day, but they do showcase lush, smartly conceived and arranged music, from boisterous rock to blues.
Savage Entertainment returns Bailey more completely to his past glory. Finally eschewing the bloated production, he keeps it simple — just voice and guitar, with other instruments as color, not competition. With the exception of the heavy, bluesed-out “Queen of the Hour,” Bailey doesn’t bellow much here, but is no less effective a vocalist. The standout is the single, “Do They Come From You”: a circling piano underpinned by strings and Bailey’s plaintive wail. Other tracks delve into bitter ironies, self-deprecation and inner torment.
Continuing the thread, 54 Days at Sea again plays to his strengths: superior song construction, a booming, bluesy voice and fluid, flowery, spot-on arrangements, including unobtrusive touches of flute, clarinet and piano. “Vampyres” and “Lazarus” point the album’s theme to the horror of coming to grips with severe disappointment — sparked by his own failed marriage — but offset the introspection with breezy tunes. Bailey pulls the listener into this emotional warfare brilliantly, without the whiskey-soaked lamentations of the latter-day Saints.