With his reedy voice, exceptional guitar chops and classic good looks, Tommy Keene should have been a star in the late '70s when his career first began. The problem was that Keene's amalgam of post-punk earnestness, '60s pop and dense hard rock was always out of fashion. Even when Geffen Records tried to clean him up in the '80s, undeniably great songs like "My Mother Looked Like Marilyn Monroe" and "Places That Are Gone" continued to leave program directors perplexed and the buying public indifferent. Keene became relegated to the status of hip influence, his named dropped by alt-rock icons such as Bob Mould and Paul Westerberg in interviews, another power-pop should've-been.
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To his credit, or perhaps to a fault, Keene's commitment to his craft has never diminished. Crashing the Ether, his 10th release, is another engaging set of loud guitar pop, songs related to both Big Star and the Replacements but not as surly or profound. "Black and White New York" and "Warren in the '60s" are perfect examples of what makes Keene eminently listenable but rarely transcendent. The hooks are in place, the words sound right, Keene's singing and playing are spot on, but there's an element missing: anguish. Despite living through a calamity of a career, Keene rarely exposes those nerves. Seldom digging into any emotional wounds, Keene settles for potent mix of genres, and his pleasing ear candy is still ultimately devoid of the passion that accompanies the greats he's inspired.