Tommy Keene Laugh In The Dark on LP + Download
Eleven full-lengths, four EPs, three compilations and one live album into the game, Tommy Keene is in the midst of a creative roll that, in the space of just six years, has yielded four studio albums — five, if you count 2010 career overview Tommy Keene You Hear Me: A Retrospective 1983-2009. The rock savant’s new offering, Laugh in the Dark, is the latest in a fruitful partnership with North Carolina’s Second Motion Records label, comprises ten fresh Keene nuggets meticulously assembled over the course of six months, a period in which his “unobvious covers” record Excitement at Your Feet saw release to unanimous critical acclaim.
Laugh in the Dark, while characterized as always by Keene’s distinctive flair for melodic guitar-driven rock and brawny power pop, marks a subtle shift in the artist’s songwriting modus operandi in that unlike previously, the material is all of recent vintage. As he explains, “There were always songs left over from the last project or ideas that hadn’t been fleshed out. What I've done in the past before starting to write for a new record would be to demo a cover or resurrect an old song of mine that I liked but never made the final cut for an album. But all the songs on Laugh in the Dark were started and finished last year from April through October. I started with a completely fresh slate on this one.”
Indeed, Keene cites the experience of doing an entire album’s worth of others’ material as being key to that “fresh slate” — and possibly even opening up some creative avenues to explore. “That’s really true,” says Keene. “Somehow, making the covers album freed me up to not be so overly hypersensitive as to my influences. In fact, I didn’t even worry at all about songs, melodies, etc., that might borrow too obviously from my main muses. Hence you have a direct concoction of the Beatles meet the Who by way of Big Star, with a little Stones for good measure.”
To that end, Laugh in the Dark sounds utterly unrestricted while still remaining true to Keene’s lifelong inspirations. Opening track “Out of My Mind,” with its brash power chords and anthemic vibe, subtly conjures vintage Who, while “Last of the Twilight Girls” has a Radio City-worthy opening riff and a succinct-yet-meaty solo to remind listeners of Keene’s prowess as a lead guitarist. Likewise, the title tune’s jangly invocations and wistful choruses speak to his instincts as a pop classicist. “Go Back Home,” with its bluesy acoustic framework spiked by sleek slide guitar, suggests a marriage between Led Zeppelin III and Let It Bleed. And album closer “All Gone Away” is overtly Beatlesque, from its “Dear Prudence”-inspired melody to the psychedelic guitar/keyboard flourishes to a generally epic feel.
It’s still a uniquely Keene project from start to finish, however, awash in buoyant melodies as well as introspective — and at times, dark — lyrical ruminations. “I have had some major upheavals in my life the last few years,” confesses Keene, and it’s not hard to detect echoes of those issues if one listens closely. “When I’m writing an album I look for a beginning, a middle and an end,” he continues, “not necessarily in a thematic sense, but I do try to get songs that represent where I am at the present time and hope they feel consistent.”