Cat Empire frontman Felix Riebl shows off his considerable songwriting skills with the new solo album, Paper Doors. For the most part it’s a stripped back affair that demonstrates judicious restraint, providing an effective contrast to the party pyrotechnics of his main gig.

There’s been a clear choice here to differentiate the sound of this project, and the decision pays off, proving Riebl’s talent for melody and words. That’s not to say, however, that instrumentation and sound take a back seat. On the contrary, in taking the less adorned path, it feels that Felix is less tied to a particular form, allowing for surprising variety among the compositions. And very occasionally brass and woodwind instruments do get dusted off – which will keep those long term fans happy.

Another nice surprise here is the range of collaborations, with Martha Wainwright, Katy Steele and Emily Lubitz all lending their voices.

Felix ReiblThe title track opener immediately sets the tone of things to come, with the slow building, atmospherics of melody over keyboards. ‘Wasting Time’ then follows up: it’s a real highlight, a well constructed, beautiful song with the added appeal of hearing Katy Steele’s incredible voice again – it’s been far too long.

The collaboration with Martha Wainwright, ‘In Your Arms’, is another crowd-pleaser, a wistful love song, with the two voices blending nicely in some great harmonies.

After the deliberately understated first half of the record, the energy lifts midway through with ‘All I Can Say’. This is the standout track of the album: starting with a laid back blues groove, the song opens to a characteristically anthemic chorus, guaranteed to have you singing along.

This is followed by ‘Shadows’, the closest thing to the Cat Empire here; starting with a touch of the Beach Boys, it resolves to the kind of party banger moment for which Felix is well known.

Following the noir feel of ‘Crocodiles’, an ode to East Timor, the album returns to softer tones, closing out with two affecting ballads, ‘Escacy’ and ‘Wager’.

Paper Doors is a first rate collection of diverse tracks, showing that, more than ever, Felix Riebl is great song-crafter with the ability to please an audience.

Paper Doors is released today in digital, CD and vinyl editions.

Felix Riebl is touring nationally and will play The Producers in Adelaide on Wednesday 7th September.

Reviewed by Matthew Trainor