Isolation Party (1998) ***1/2
There's a cover of Mission of Burma's "Einstein's Day," on here - a rather left-field choice for Tommy, and while I can't say that he improves upon the original, he more than does the song justice, with blazing guitar work that would do Roger Miller proud (the MoB guy, not the "King of the Road"). Let's talk about Mr. Keene's guitar slinging for a moment: it's a crucial and underrated aspect of his sound. His voice (which I like) can be thin and reedy to the point of off-putting some less tolerant (read: Top 40) listeners, but the guitars in his music are always sharp, cutting, well-toned, and very professionally played. In fact, the more I think about it, the strongest aspect of Keene's sound is his guitar; certainly not his vocals and perhaps not so much his songwriting as the way that those lovely-jangly yet metallic-biting guitars put those tunes across. It's by far the most interesting subject I can think of to discuss in this review, because, as you guessed it, Keene offers nothing remotely new on this disc. At over 50 minutes and 13 tracks, it can easily get wearying sitting down to absorb it all in at one long take; you'll definitely want to play something totally different by the end of this disc. But perhaps that's also because Keene shoves the strongest material upfront, wisely leaving the weaker tunes for second half ("Weak and Watered Down" is rather self-descriptive, though I doubt entitled with that in mind intentionally). The first three songs are all highlights, with the album roaring out of the gate not once but twice with a pair of one-two smashing anthemic rockers, "Long Time Missing," and "Getting Out From Under You." Then he dials it down a notch with the excellent, wistful mid-tempo nostalgia ballad, "Take Me Back," and from there on in there aren't really any more tunes that he truly knocks out of the ballpark, but he does consistently hit the ball each tune up at bat, with nary a bad song in sight. Some boring and forgettable songs near the end, which isn't the same. He's got this formula down cold. Sometimes moody ("Happy When You're Sad"), sometimes jauntily '60s ("Tuesday Morning"), at his best when he's performingly an intensely driven rocker ("Love Lies Down").