The longer time goes on, the less likely, it seems, that Tommy Keene will finally get his due. After twenty-plus years of releasing solid, shimmering power pop, a style that has gone in and out of fashion many times, Keene is still a name only for the hip — or maybe just the obsessive — to drop. Music heads of a certain age still remember 1984’s Places That Are Gone EP as a pure, blissful, pull-over-to-the-side-of-the-road-and-revel moment. Most of his records since then have done the same.
In the Late Bright, his first record since 2005, is another winner. There are so many hooks here, and thankfully the guitar is way up in the mix so you can hear them in full glory. Keene’s props, when they come, are usually for his songwriting and composition, and the man does have a bottomless pit of melodies at hand. However, he is also a solid guitar player, as both the melodies and solos on “Late Bright,” “Secret Life of Stories,” “Elevated” and others will attest. Lyrically, “Tomorrow’s Gone Tonight” and “Save This Harmony” are full of Westerbergian wordplay minus the angst or self-deprecation. “Realize Your Mind” may be one his top ten best songs.
Unsung but certainly not ignored, Tommy Keene has quietly kept the power-pop flag flying since the demise of Alex Chilton’s common sense. Bands like Brian Jonestown Massacre, Velvet Crush, Matthew Sweet and even Yo La Tengo owe a nod to the Keene sound. Given the availability of most of his eight releases, In The Late Bright is a good place for the uninitiated to start, and a good place for longtime fans to drop what they are doing and rave on once again.