Tommy Keene | You Hear Me: A Retrospective 1983-2009 (Second Motion)

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It’s truly a tip-top collection by a top-tier artist.

I’ve been a Tommy Keene fan since before I could drive. I’ve got every recording the man’s ever put out, including some bootlegged versions of the early Mutt Lange mixes (scrapped and rerecorded). I also have a cassette tape (!) of early songs which made it onto Sleeping On a Rollercoaster in the 1992, mailed to me by Tommy himself after an extended conversation at the bar of Mississippi Nights.  This year, for my birthday, I got to see him not once but three times over the course of three days (thank you, SXSW). So I suppose you could say Tommy and I go way back.

That said, I was both excited and underwhelmed when his new album, a career retrospective, arrived in my box. My first reaction was, “Yay, new Tommy Keene!” And then I read the track listing and simmered down. It was all stuff I owned and knew.

One function of a retrospective is to show new or part-time fans the breadth of an artist’s work. This one, however, seemed geared toward a third type of fan. True, all of the songs were familiar to me…but tracked and packaged as they were, this album really did serve as a career overview in reminding me how prolific and talented Keene is, has been and continues to be. (His most recent new release came out last year.)

As you would expect, the 41-song, two-disc set tracks Keene’s career from 1983 (“Back to Zero Now”) to 2009 (“Leaving Your World Behind”). And you know what? It’s brilliant.

To be fair, there was an earlier retrospective, 1993’s The Real Underground; this one lifts its predecessor overhead, adds a bunch of spice and flair, stretches it out to double its length, then offers it on a silver platter. In other words, just because you have that one doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also get this one.

Rather than conveying a “been there, done that” feel, Tommy Keene You Hear Me (a little too cleverly named for its own good) reminds you why you fell in love with Keene in the first place. His slices of power-pop—a sound he maintains fairly consistently across a nearly three-decade career—are just as fresh and juicy as ever. In addition to serving as a refresher, the two-disc set leads you to fall in love with songs, either all over again or anew.

While I’ve got a list of longtime favorites, all of which appear here (“Underworld,” “My Mother Looked Like Marilyn Monroe,” “Astronomy,” “Based on Happy Times,” “Down, Down, Down,” “Silent Town”), but in all truth not one of these songs fails to resonate. It’s truly a tip-top collection by a top-tier artist.

While there are virtually no album-only offerings—the single "new" track is an acoustic version of “Black & White New York”—but the expansive, two-disc collection soon washes away any sense of shortcoming.

It’s true: Tommy Keene should have been huge. Largely considered a “musician’s musician” (a nice way to say that, unless you’re a musician or a power-pop music snob, you probably haven’t heard of him), Keene has made a career delivering smart, catchy and guitar-driven power-pop. With a career approaching 30 years, now seems the perfect time to take a look back at how far he’s come. Cheers, Tommy; here’s to another 30. A+ | Laura Hamlett

RIYL: Big Star, Matthew Sweet, The Replacements

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