The 10-minute review – 27: Keen

I can’t stop myself.

Even when I am listening to music for pure enjoyment I am constantly, continually thinking of ways to frame it. To explain it. Shout my love from the barricades. For me, much of the enjoyment of music is sharing that experience. It was true in the 1980s. It is even more true now. I cannot stop myself. I have always been so envious of DJs that people listen to. That is my true vocation, my ideal guest house. To unlock the hidden treasure chests. To try and universalise a very personal feeling, make it understandable to the unwashed, uncaring masses. I do not enjoy the performance of being myself, I do not enjoy the performance of being by myself, I always like others to join in.

I do not try and rationalise this too much. It just is.

Yesterday morning, I received a CD in the post. These days, I might have disregarded it – but this one piqued my interest; partly because it was sent by Pauline, one of the early crowd-funding supporters for my new book Ed Sheeran Is Shit (Paypal £13 to if you haven’t already, it’s well worth it). She sent the CD by way of a thank-you for the book. Folk like Pauline are rare these days. Rare, and very appreciated.

Folk like Pauline were rare those days, too.

Her band Keen were unique even in a world where being ignored is far more commonplace than anyone lets on. Back in the late 1980s/early 1990s I believe I may have been the ONLY music journalist to write about this awkward pop five- (six-?) (four-?) piece – and I did so, as documented in the sleeve notes here, on three occasions. Back then, that was usually enough to spark a minor bidding war among minor (if not major) labels. Not this time. No idea why, but my entreaties – “This band make me feel protective”; “they don’t dress up on stage”; “for today, I really am in love and I have the tread-marks around my eyes to prove it”; “this is pop music, y’see” – went mostly ignored.

The band only released two singles, in very limited quantities. And that was it.

They charmed me, though.

So you need to understand how thrilled I am to receive this compilation. Surprised perhaps, but not necessarily. When I placed their 12″ for sale on Discogs a year back, it was snapped up immediately – for an extortionate price. (Sorry Pauline, but in mitigation I am selling my ENTIRE vinyl and CD collection.) Somewhere out there, someone was listening.

This compilation of prime 1980s indiepop, Waiting contains a special magic. I have listened to it from start to finish, all 23 songs and 66 minutes of it, and am halfway through again, and I am certain of that. Keen even sound better than I recall (although that could be memory, and nostalgia tripping me up). Gorgeous, inflamed melodies. Beautiful, timely melodies and that peculiarly 1980s bass sound. Plaintive, warming melodies and that fragile expressive, near heart-choking voice. A little bit Tracey Thorn, a whole lot herself. Sad, hopeful, bittersweet lyrics and mandatory keyboards. Easily as good as anything Messthetics has uncovered in their trawling through the forgotten treasure chests of the DIY cassette era eight or nine years earlier, and similar in many respects.

Honest to Peel, one song (‘On Your Knees’) even steals a lyrics from Girls At Our Best! and over the course of these 23 gently beautiful, heart-crushingly gorgeous, unassuming but all the more magical for that, songs Keen occupy an uncharted ground, bounded and aided by the heights of Girls At Our Best!, Marine Girls, pragVEC, my own personal 1980s sweethearts 12 Cubic Feet and also a little Trixie’s Big Red Motorbike. Here, don’t take my word for it. Have a listen. Please. Have a listen. It would make me so happy if this band get even a modicum of the love they deserve, even 30 years late.

What have Keen got to offer the world that no one else has?
Pauline: “I haven’t been to the cinema since 1973.”

Every hamlet should have one.

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