Keith John Adams: Unclever [Album Review]

Keith John Adams Live at CMJ 2007

In the grunge music of the 90s we saw the mass standardization of the head-bang. For you young ones, that’s when you take your nasty, long, greasy, unwashed hair and whip it from back to front and front to back in rapid motions. The result, obviously, is brain damage. That’s what rock-n-roll will do for ya. Pop, on the other hand, takes that motion and reduces it to a quick nod. The good news is that you have more brain cells to kill with vices such as alcohol. The music of Keith John Adams may draw heavily from rock influences, but his music is so filled with pop that the music and your favorite local Stout or Lager will go hand-in-hand like two brand new teenage lovers.

When I had the pleasure of seeing Keith John Adams perform live at CMJ in 2007, his performance was stripped down primarily to just him, though Jason of Casper And The Cookies accompanied him on percussion for a few tracks. In translating the performance to, Unclever, the music is (not surprisingly) slightly fuller than Adams’ live show. He adds a second guitar from time to time and includes fairly consistent percussion. Other than those two elements, it’s pretty much just good ol’ KJA.

But that doesn’t mean he’s a folk artist like Jose Gonzalez—his songs are instead infused with 70s British garage-y pop/rock. Despite his undeniable pop melodies, Adams is a true rocker. He seems to push songs like opening tracks “Bed” and “Other Side Of The Road” forward, subtly forcing an extra few beats per minute and giving the songs that extra rock-like umph. Then he hits us with “Sorry I Love You Badly”, a softer and slower track that isn’t without its internally sardonic humor: Cocking it up / The life that we share / Cocking it up / When we’re half way there…

Humor is something Adams always seems to toss into his songs. It fits his tipsy barroom persona—or is it flat out tanked persona? In the poppy “Lie”, his simple lyrics run through countless people he’ll lie to with one exception: you. He’ll tell you the truth, but he never quite gets around to what exactly he’s lying or telling the truth about. “Looking Around The Planet” continues with simple lyrics and poppy, rock-tinted guitar riffs.

One of the biggest highlights is “Elizabeth Hodgkinson Warzone” for its Ba-ba-bas and interesting vocal melodies. The tune has a light guitar-driven swagger and you can imagine a barroom crowd joining in on some of those Ba-ba-bas. “Nobody Loves Me” should almost have the parenthetical “(Like You)” attached to it. The title is deceiving—at first glance it looks like it might be a self-deprecating tune, but one listen and it’s apparent that the song is all about the good side of love. Even the guitar riffs expunge love through the sound waves.

It’s as if, in Unclever, Adams has created a new genre encompassing the best of barroom sounds without actually talking about alcohol. His songs may be bare and simplistic, but they’re also clear and catchy and memorable. They’re songs you sing when drunkenly stumbling home with friends from the local pub. And even if you don’t drink, the songs are enjoyable as hook-filled pop songs that will keep your head nodding at a rapid pace without the loss of your trusty ol’ brain cells.

This review was originally published December 13, 2007 on the old version of FensePost.

Keith John Adams: Other Side Of The Road [mp3]

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keith-john-adams-unclever

HHBTM Records [CD, 2007]

1. Bed
2. On The Other Side Of The Road
3. Sorry That I Love You Badly
4. Lie
5. Looking Around The Planet
6. Elizabeth Hodgkinson Warzone
7. Yesterday Morning
8. Easy
9. Now That I Found You
10. Nobody Loves Me
11. Crying In The Sunshine

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