The effervescent enthusiasm that pervades Tommy Keene’s new album, Behind the Parade, belies the artist’s nearly thirty-year career as a cult figure. Sample the previous high points of his discography– Places that Are Gone or Based on Happy Times— and listen for a discernible difference in energy.
Granted, one of Keene’s most obvious stylistic debts, “Deep Six Saturday,” appears here in the form of a chiming twelve-string guitar buried in layers of freeboards. If you didn’t notice that tribute to The Byrds, the presence of trumpet should bring it home as the two motifs reference the seminal band’s cynical take on celebrity “So You Want to be a Rock and Roll Star.” Rather than a sour nod to roots, the track becomes an implicit statement of fortitude.
Tommy Keene’s fundamental positivism is essential for the power pop music he plays. If the massed guitars didn’t resonate with optimism as much as the lyrics on the ironically titled “Already Made Up Your Mind,” the track imply wouldn’t work. “Lies in the Heart” is an emphatic conclusion to any album that once again reaffirms Tommy Keen’s music is anything but one-dimensional fluff: there’s a hint of melancholy on the title song, just enough to turn the extended (for him) guitar solo section into an emotional exorcism.
“Factory Town” drives the album home with the thought that the interchangeability of Keene’s albums is something he can be proud of: he’s never succumbed to a bit of ennui ten studio albums and almost three decades on. There are those moments on Behind the Parade, like “Running for Your Life,” that very clearly recall his past work and perhaps too much so, but an artist with his track record earns the right to borrow from himself after awhile. And that’s resolve not weariness in ringing chords of “The Long Goodbye:” Tommy is nothing if not forward-thinking.
The bright verve of the music here is all the more laudable considering it’s mainly the work of the artist himself. As has often been the case during the course of his career, Behind the Parade is self-produced and largely recorded by the man himself (on guitars, bass keyboards and lead vocals) supplemented with drums from Chris Brill and occasional bass and harmony vocals from Brad Quinn. It all sounds like the work of a band pumping it out in a home studio.
Near the middle of these ten generally upbeat driving tracks is the slightly forlorn instrumental “La Castana.” While it goes on a bit too long, it nevertheless offers a moment to reflect on the ample virtues of the album on which it appears.