Thursday, February 3, 2011

Tommy Keene - Songs From The Film

Songs From The Film (1986) ****1/2

Keene's major-label represents a major stylistic departure as Tommy dabbles in then-trendy 'deth-techno' screaming lyrics about S&M bondage to a gothic Eurodisco beat while metal guitars gauchely thrum....nah, just joking, Keene still delivers the same jangly, post-Byrdsy power-pop as usual, but with Geoff Emerick (Beatles, Costello) producing on a major-label budget, the sound is beefed up and glossier than his indie releases.  It's not really an improvement; Keene's vocals are more assured and clearer, but distractingly studio processed, and while the guitars sparkle and gleam more brightly, the drum sound is a tad too '80s if you know what I mean.  Not that the differences between Places That Are Gone and Songs From The Film are that vast; the superficial surface gleam doesn't distract from the meat of Keene's tunesmanship.  The album opens with a punchier but not superior remake of the title track from Keene's 1984 breakout EP, and ringingly circular-chorused "In Our Lives," doesn't disappoint the energy level.  The first two tracks promise a remarkable consistency that the rest of the LP delivers in spades, despite a short run of merely ordinary songs that sags the mid-section slightly and an ill-chosen, out of place cover of Lou Reed's scorchingly amelodic rocker "Kill Your Sons," that as track #6 seriously disrupts the flow.  The haunting, intriguingly enigmatic ballad, "My Mother Looked Like Marilyn Monroe," inspired by Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train according to Keene, is a mid-album centerpiece, and along with such bitterly melancholy fare as "Underworld," and "The Story Ends," demonstrate Keene's mastery of the balladic form.  The dizzying minute-and-a-half, blink-and-it's-over-far-too-soon fasty "Astronomy," and the vituperative "Take Back Your Letters," are two other clear highlights. 

The original LP gains a solid four star rating from me, but it's padded with the excellent Run Now EP and several outtakes as bonus tracks, making it quite the delectable bargain.  There's a one-song overlap with The Real Underground as "Back Again," makes a return appearance, but who's complaining, it's a quite welcome listen again.  That EP was more sympathetically produced by T. Bone Burnett and Don Dixon, whose understanding of crystalline sparkling acoustic guitars nails the essence of Keene's sound more fittingly than Emerick's lush-rock job.  After a pair of excellent shouldn't-have-been-outtakes ("We're Two," "Faith in Love") the CD closes with a rampaging cover of the Flamin' Groovies sleaze-blooze classic, "Teenage Head."  After all these years, this is still probably the most widely circulated Tommy Keene album and one of the easiest to find thanks to the 1998 reissue, and makes a fine, fine introduction to the man.  So hop on down to the malt shop and ask the jukebox man if you can give it a spin, willya?

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