- 19 Dec 22
The Reel Thing
With the record company reasonably hesitant to put it out so hard on the heels of last year’s WHAT THEN?, Keenan has opted to release this “clearing out of the house, returning to my roots” himself. It’s hard not to admire an artist – although I know many find it easy enough - who’s in it for the art.
There is a sense of just letting the tapes roll about Crude, and that title may be a nod to the demo-like sound, but the thing is, it suits him just as well. Nine times out of ten, the wisest course of action when some young lad takes out an acoustic guitar is to leave the room, but Keenan is different, possessing a magnetism whether he’s in front of a band or sitting on his own in a corner. ‘Miracles’ seems to have already started as the listener sneaks into the back of the room and tries to take their seat as quietly as possible. A line like “On such nights as these, we lent our light to sacred flame” distracts you from trying to get a drink, and makes you pay attention.
I might, perhaps, prefer a more finished record but songs like the lovely ‘On Michael Street’ - when you’re rattled by the name of the one you love you’re really in trouble – and brilliant titles like the ancient drone of ‘God Is A Magpie’ or ‘Raving To Byzantium’, a duet with pal Junior Brother, are all welcome just the way they are. Even something as seemingly throwaway as his run-in with busker ‘Andy Wilson’ - “Andy, here’s a fiver, give us Mercury Rev” – is enviably well observed, and the drums, when they come in, are gloriously sloppy.
On first listen, you'd be forgiven for thinking that ‘Waiting Room’ or ‘Ears Are Pricked’ or ‘National Gallery Pop’ might need finishing, but put them on again and they start to work their way in. When he finds himself “oblivious to the throng, immersed in my own inner song” the listener is afraid to cough lest they break the spell. You're there beside him as he seeks nourishment, as he declares his love with no expectations, as he calls for a song, as he gets back to the alley, where he belongs.
Keenan has an easy faculty for the story telling/singing tradition that’s as old as the stones in the ground and the closing ‘Untitled’, with scurrying spiders and the eye-sockets of giants, places him so far ahead of the roving gangs of curly-headed, painfully earnest folksy chancers we’re constantly bombarded with, they probably can’t even see him. When you drop the irony, what do you make of that?