The follow-up to 2017's fiery, EDM-forward Bravado, Return to Center sees Aussie pop star Kirin J. Callinan looking to the 1980s for inspiration, revisiting nine tracks that cover a wide array of styles -- from Momus to Randy Newman -- and laying down one new original. Recorded under a self-imposed 14-day deadline -- that's how long he had to return the gear he bought back to Guitar Center to get a full refund, hence the album title -- the ten-track set opens with "Life Is Life," a bombastic rendering of Laibach's already over-the-top "Opus Dei." Momus' wry "The Homosexual" segues into a bright and radio-ready reading of the Waterboys' "Whole of the Moon," with a respectful take on Dutch new wavers Spectral Display's 1982 hit "It Takes a Muscle to Fall in Love" wrapping up the LP's front half. The largely instrumental title cut begins on an ambient note before devolving into hysterics via Callinan's own uncontrollable laughter -- while touring the U.S. with California psych-rockers the Growlers, he had the band set up a microphone and pin him down to the First Avenue venue floor in Minneapolis and tickle him without mercy. He addresses exposing himself on the red carpet at the 2017 ARIA Music Awards via outraged news soundbites, which he weaves with precision throughout a jaunty, mandolin-led version of Public Image Ltd's "Rise." Closing on a heartfelt note, Callinan delivers a lovely and respectful version of Ultravox's "Vienna" that puts his powerful voice and "rented" equipment to the test; it helps that the original, so seemingly advanced at the time, sounds a bit homespun these days. Return to Center can feel like a bit of a lark, but it's administered with enough gravitas that it's easy to dial into the flow. Leave it to the Aussie pop provocateur to deliver a covers record that's just as wild and idiosyncratic as he is.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger