- 23 Jan 20
A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man
The best books, the best albums, the best works of art all welcome you into a world of their own. “A Beginner’s Guide begins…” Keenan whispers, to start ‘James Dean’, an acoustic recounting of a dream where the actor - the embodiment of youth and glamour - steps out of the spotlight into the world of the ordinary and the everyday. It is this world, an alternate Hibernia peopled with bowsies, poets, and lovers where the commonplace is elevated, that Keenan eulogises and mythologises throughout this brilliant record, this work of art.
The fiddle-driven swoop and swirl of ‘Unholy Ghosts’ celebrates those “who seems destined to get left behind” and we’ve all met – or been – the drunkard dripping with poetry manning the wooden piano on its last legs. ‘Love In A Snug’ is a bar-room odyssey; a short story worthy of Keenan’s literary heroes. It would wring a wry smile from anyone who’s ever known the joy of day drinking, hiding from the mundane while listening for the secrets of the world which seem only a whisper away. The song boasts a chorus that dances through heart and memory.
‘Altar Wine’ speaks to dark obsession, ‘Eastern Nights’ recalls a a run-in with a burlesque dancer, and the doomed, drunken professions of love made in the rush and the flush when everything seems possible, but ‘Origin Of The World’ uses Ovid’s Diana and Actaeon to remind us that love is the risk worth taking.
‘Tin Pan Alley’ is a piano ballad celebrating the timelessness of art as all else fades, while ‘Good Old Days’ is a rag-bag of memories that distances the narrator from times past with a “God bless”. ‘The Healing’ sees music and art in the same way that Van Morrison often has: as a pathway back to the true self, a salve for broken souls, the music being rent asunder as the wails rise, saying what can’t be said with words, going beyond language into feeling, and ‘Evidence Of Living’ is a call to arms, a cri de cœur imploring us all to live lives blessed and guided by love and art, prompting us to “move now to set an example.”
‘Subliminal Dublinia’ closes the record out with a worthy manifesto: “occupy the city with original ideas.” Keenan takes swipes at Dublinia, his own potential Arcadia is breaking his heart, but it’s not just the city around him, he is calling for a “revolution of the self, of the heart”. Let love in, let the music wash over you, “isn’t that a start?”
That’s his last word, but the end of his beginning is just his start. Keenan promised much, and has delivered more. His words hold poetry beyond his years, and the music, which ranges from soft folk to dark atmospherics to gloriously untethered, gospel-tinged testifying, is fired with passion, played by a crack band who know they’re involved in something very special. Reach and grasp are equal. The first great record of the year.
Pick up your copy now!