If David Kilgour had done nothing more than co-lead the brilliant New Zealand pop band the Clean, his legacy would already have been assured. Throw in his collaboration with brother (and fellow Clean-mate) Hamish in the underrated Great Unwashed, his brief stewardship of the short-lived but excellent group Stephen and his membership in the great one-off cover group the Pop Art Toasters, and his career looks even more impressive. And that’s even before you get to his solo work.
Kilgour’s first album under his own name, the gorgeous Here Come the Cars, proceeds logically from prior endeavors. Employing the rhythm section from the Strange Loves, he delivers a baker’s dozen tunes without a single stinker in the bunch. Predictably, many of the songs recall Kilgour’s straight-ahead guitar-pop work with the Clean (“Fine,” “Spins You Round”), but others, particularly the crystalline title track, show a slower, more contemplative side that he’d previously kept under wraps. Catchy, multi-textured and thoughtful all the way through.
Spiritual Gas Station is an unnecessary EP that includes two tracks from Here Come the Cars and three more from his then-forthcoming Sugar Mouth, which rendered Spiritual Gas Station redundant when it appeared a few months later. Sugar Mouth offers more of the same pop finery displayed on Here Come the Cars and seems almost effortless in the process. You don’t have to be a jangle-rock fan to appreciate the craftsmanship evident in great songs like “Fallaway,” “1987” and the extremely Clean-like “Crazy,” all of them loaded with beautifully impressionistic little guitar touches. This is the work of a clear-eyed pro with all his skills at their peak.
First Steps and False Alarms consists of 20 demos Kilgour recorded between 1987 and 1992, a few of which he later fleshed out with Stephen and on Here Come the Cars. The relaxed, loosely structured feel of the proceedings invites comparisons to his work in the Great Unwashed, and the album is generally far stronger than most similar odds’n’sods collections. While Kilgour’s solid but unspectacular lyrics have never ventured too far beyond the fairly rote confines of love and alienation, his devotion to superior songcraft makes him a major talent.