March 08, 2006
Keith John Adams "Pip"
This English troubadour’s set at last year’s Happy Happy Birthday to Me Popfest in Athens renewed my faith in live music, single-handedly erasing the cynicism that crept into me after having to sit through hundreds of mediocre bands. Athens crowds are even worse than Austin crowds when it comes to talking through shows. Undeterred, Keith silenced the hipsters by standing on top of the bar to perform the first few songs, with nothing but a ukulele and a toy piano as his accompaniment. Once he had the crowd’s attention in the palm of his hand, he jumped off the bar and ran on stage to perform the rest of the set with his backing band (the men of Japanese label mates Elekibass). They wore matching top hats and danced around in unison while playing Keith’s songs. Every song was performed with a vibrancy that made even the most jet-lagged attendees jump around. In a just world, there would’ve been major-label talent scouts throwing money at Keith as soon as he walked off stage. Why, then, isn’t this man famous, especially considering the Anglophilic turn that rock criticism has taken over the last couple of years?
Probably because he doesn’t sound like the Arctic fricking Monkeys.
Ugh! Can Alex Turner PLEASE give David Gedge his book of lyrics back?
Anyway, moving on...
Pip is Keith’s second album under his own name. His debut
Sunshine Loft was recorded with a full band, and was recorded with all of the musicians huddled around a single stereo microphone. The album sounded crisp despite this lo-tech working method. Pip, on the other hand, was recorded in a professional studio with Keith playing all of the instruments himself. Not only has the production improved but, strangely enough, so has the musicianship! It’s a rare one-man band that can play all of his instruments equally well, but Keith does, adding to his already formidable talents as a singer, songwriter and performer. The sound is spacious yet lush. Acoustic and electric guitars frequently double each other to gorgeous effect. Keith’s voice placed front and center, sounding as if he’s singing directly to you. He’s got a croon that is simultaneously snot-nosed and refined; it’s the kind of voice that Spoon’s Britt Daniel would KILL to have.
Every song on Pip is crammed with clever rhymes about sentimental subjects, and boasts a hook that won’t leave your head for days. On opener “Inconsequential Thought,” Keith sings, “I love every particle I can find/in every article of your mind,” against a backdrop of tinkling toy pianos and whammied-out fuzz guitars. “Dad,” which is built off a memorable four-note guitar riff, finds Keith getting closer to his father after the death of his mother: “When you lost a wife, then I lost a mother/But she’s kinda here when we’re with each other.” He chastises people who aren’t proactive on “Keep an Eye” and people who let their jobs consume their lives on “Man Overboard.” He sings of being reinvigorated by the presence of new love (“Torch”) and being depleted by the loss of love (“Memory”). He sings of the inevitability of death on “Matter of Time,” and even uses reality TV as a metaphor to prove his point: “It’s only a matter of time/’til viewers on you doted/then off the show you’re voted!”
Not every song on Pip is a classic, but even the weaker ones (and there aren’t many) require little effort to enjoy. There are McCartney-like “silly love songs,” and songs in which Adams engages in cleverness for its own sake, but even those songs culminate in choruses that are catchier than the common cold. If the words “Beatles,” “Costello” and “XTC” mean anything to you, you need to buy Pip the very SECOND you finish reading this review.
Artist Website: www.keithjohnadams.com
Label Website: www.hhbtm.com