Matt Keating’s Wrong Way Home – Best Rock Album of 2012?
Matt Keating’s new Wrong Way Home (streaming in its entirety at the Sojourn Records site) is the best album he’s ever done. It’s a landmark in tunesmithing and songcraft to rival anything Elvis Costello or the Beatles ever recorded. Which is an even more impressive achievement considering the sweep and power of Keating’s 2008 double cd, Quixotic, a feast of lush, lyrically rich janglerock. This one is considerably different: blending elements of 1960s soul, country, ragtime and even jazz, it’s far more musically diverse. Lyrically, it’s his darkest album: as with Joy Division or late-period Phil Ochs, an encroaching, inescapable sense of doom pervades this record. Keating has always been an uneasy writer, able to dissect the fatal flaw in a relationship with a few sharp words: here, he takes his role as psychopathologist to a new level. He’s also never sung better – there are other singers who get called Orbison-esque, and most of those comparisons fall flat, but Keating’s nonchalant but wounded-to-the-core croon packs the same kind of emotional wallop.
The songs themselves are mini-epics, seldom going on for more than four minutes, arranged so that they begin sparsely and gradually add layers of strings, guitars, keyboards and horns until they reach an angst-driven orchestral grandeur. The musicianship is what you would expect from an A-list of New York players. Keating is a strong guitarist, but he’s a brilliant pianist, nimbly switching from blithe ragtime to tersely jeweled, incisive rock riffs, to torchy jazz on Baby’s Mind, a number that wouldn’t be out of place in the Chet Baker songbook, both compositionally and vocal-wise. Tony Scherr’s guitar channels a hundred styles, from Memphis soul to artsy metal, to psychedelia and country, alongside Jason Mercer on bass, Hem’s Mark Brotter and Greg Wieczorek (of Jenifer Jackson’s band) splitting duties on drums, Claudia Chopek’s one-woman string section, Cassis on accordion and Keating’s wife Emily Spray’s exquisite harmony vocals.
The opening track, Just About Now, a pulsing, piano-driven Burt Bacharach-esque soul song cruelly captures the moment where what seems to be redemption at last goes completely to hell. “I don’t remember facing a day so unafraid…when you’re in love you’re not on the take,” Keating observes, facing what appears to be an abrupt, cold ending. Punchline introduces a furtive clenched-teeth dread that will recur later on:
I’ve been using the back door
Keeping my own score
Scraping the bottom
Off of the top floor
You know I keep minimizing
All those expectations
On the horizon
In each situation
Scherr’s indulgent Comfortably Numb quote does double duty here as comic relief and deathblow as Keating runs the song’s mantra, “just leave it alone.”
Nobody’s Talking, a crushing portait of rural claustrophobia that you have to “claw your way through,” has a country sway and one of Keating’s signature allusive plotlines. Nobody’s taking out the trash or doing the dishes here: did somebody get killed, die, go on a bender or what? Likewise, the aphoristic Too Good to Lose – with lively dixieland from trumpeter Shane Endsley and the Microscopic Septet’s Dave Sewelson on baritone sax – could be completely sarcastic, or it could actually be one of the few bright spots amidst the gloom. It’s hard to tell. And the narrator of the wistfully Tex-Mex flavored title track – the most overtly Orbisonesque song here – might actually be the rare guy who actually wants to nurture communication in a relationship, or he could be a total control freak/stalker type.
Maybe He’ll Meet You, a shuffling country crooner tune, might be the album’s most haunting track. Keating shuffles his lyrics and his images artfully: the snakecharmer forgets his song and then dies of snakebite as the hope of finally being able to connect with someone slowly and inevitably slips away. Another real haunter is Maker of Carousels, Keating’s devastating portrait of self-inflicted emotional depletion, pulsing along with phantasmagorical carnival organ. Jersey Sky, a homage to Danny Federici, the late E Street Band organist, works a hypnotic, elegiac ambience, as does the ragtimey 1913 Coney Island, an understatedly brooding graveside scenario.
There’s also the absolutely hilarious, doo-wop flavored Back to the Party, an ominous tale of a clueless doofus whose ending is delivered with a riff rather than a lyric; the lavishly arranged, death-fixated Here and Then You’re Gone; the bitterly sardonic, Elvis Costello-inflected soul waltz Go to the Beach; the brightly shuffling Sound of Summer Days, which could be the great lost track from the Kinks’ Village Green; and the Springsteen-esque blue-collar lament Factory Floor, featuring Spray’s electrifying, vibrato-fueled soul harmonies. Even on the album’s closing track, a Lennon-esque piano ballad, Keating is apprehensive, unsure what’s going to happen to him if he allows himself the chance to salvage the remains of a relationship. How many people who heard London Calling, or Highway 61, or Armed Forces knew immediately that they had a classic in their hands? This album is one of those records: every time you hear it, there’s something new to reflect on and enjoy.
Rivaling the Beatles?! What? I understand that the greats will eventually be topped, but Matt is nowhere near accomplishing that. If he wins any award for best album it should be “best album for toddlers to play games to”. Have you forgotten what “ROCK” means? Sorry to be so negative, but I subscribed to NY Daily to hear new music. So far it has been a lot of decent music that I’m not much into, and a few great acts. I never read too much of the reviews that coincide with the links, and therefore never feel inclined to leave a reply, but the opening of this one was a disaster. Please for the love of god dig deeper into the world of music and let me know about a band that actually sounds new and exciting. This guys music, while executed and produced well, sounds just like every other tard with a guitar and run of the mill vocals. Has NY forgotten what rock is? or has it been overrun by hipsters who like shit cause its not mainstream just so they can talk about something underground while using expressions like “esque”.
The song Maybe He’ll meet you is the best on the album and even then he’s not even performing on par with the lyrical maestro Leonard Cohen let alone John fucking Lennon. Do me and the rock community a favor by calling Matt’s music “Soft country Rock”, put him in the category of Kenny G listeners and make a new blog called shit your mom might like.
quiet doesn’t necessarily mean wimpy. Quiet stuff can be powerful – just like your boy Lenny C. And this isn’t all that quiet either – that Tony Scherr lead guitar? That’s totally Floyd!
Are you pissed because I haven’t done anything on your band yet? Tried downloading that mediafire link you sent and it didn’t work.
If you want something really good and loud, hard and heavy, check this out: http://mothermars.bandcamp.com
I don’t care if you showcase my band or not. We suck compared to the greats, and there are sooo many other talented bands out there not getting the attention they deserve. Quiet is powerful! Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” and a million others come to mind. Honestly Matt’s music is just so so on the quiet side, and I was surprised to see such a raving review for his album. I actually found the guitar soloing a bit on the cheese and generic side lacking the soul of a Floyd solo. Of course this is just my opinion and we all know the phrase about how opinions are like assholes.
Mother Mars is pretty sick. Thank you. The first song was chill, and then “fossil fuel blues” kicked in… epic.
don’t ever say your music sucks. it doesn’t. too many haters out there, don’t do their job for them. I’ll do something with that bandcamp track even though I couldn’t open that file you sent