“You say you want to provoke a reaction / You’d rather be hated than have people ‘quite’ like you / you are fucking liars / oooh, oooh, it’s wasted on you.” Keith Top Of The Pops nails a certain perspective of a certain kind of band in “Wasted on You” from his new album, Livin’ The Dream.
This album exists as the third and final chapter in a trilogy of albums that include Fuck You, I’m Keith Top Of The Pops, and TOTP2. The narrative that spans the sequence is a classic tale of ‘boy leaving small town to go to London where he forms bands, makes friends, falls in love, falls out of love, and finds himself while livin’ the dream’. If all of that sounds like a lot to digest (and it is a lot to digest) you can simply start with Livin’ The Dream as a standalone collection, and not worry too much about the back story. This shit makes sense on a level that doesn’t need too much research. It’s rock ‘n’ roll, and all of that.
The sonic approach across these ten tracks will not surprise fans of Keith TOTP. There were two rules enforced during the recording process. 1. Everyone gets just one take. 2. Everything recorded gets used. The resulting energy is an unadulterated expression of the ‘now’, and the core of explored subjects is raw, emotional, and pretty fucking thrilling.
The artist producer calls up an extensive list of friends to contribute noise to the process. We asked Keith “Just who’s playing on this thing?” He said “Various members of Art Brut, The Indelicates, Desperate Journalist, Menaces, 1990s, Franz Ferdinand, Black Box Recorder, Carter USM, Foxcunt, Medium Wave, The Love Conspiracy, Desert Falls, Micky C & All The Sad Sad People, Salad, and many many more!” So, you’ll get a sense of combined energy that you can expect. The affection to craft, and to each other, is audible from the first beat.
The undulating process across themes draws elements from heroes of the past. At times this feels like an album of modern punk, at times it feels like someone found Roxy Music’s dress-up box and decided to show their teeth. There’s as much glitter and glam – synth beds, sparkle and crooning – as there is grit and gumption. “So Angry” is a track that accommodates all the angles. This is Keith TOTP at his best. Hand-claps, and a community effort back a man who opens his heart in appeal.
Typically, Keith TOTP is an artist who avoids the sentimental. Here though, there are moments of authentic tenderness. “Teenage Kicks”, borrowing a title from The Undertones, explores a different set of adolescent inquiries to the more brash classic. Self-medication, new things to try, rolling around with a lover – all open the narrators eyes. Cider is a catalyst for significant happiness. But then you consider the song, “Want You Back” and we get a beautiful sense of regret that lesser artists would drench with trite platitudes. Watch out Keith TOTP; your ballads are showing.
Special mention should be made of Jo Bevan from Desperate Journalist. Her performance on the duet “Burn it (Burn It All)” is staggering. “All that time spent by yourself / just putting down everybody else. You don’t have to be right, all the time. / All the time.” is a verse delivered to break hearts. It calls out the self-pitiful wallowing that we’ve all indulged in our formative years. And Bevan will unfold you with tough love.
Livin’ The Dream is an album that deserves to be sat in a pile of vinyl that gets explored at the end of every boozy night, when you’re looking to smoke something interesting. It articulates a love affair, not just with a person or people, but with music, and the making of noise. With an aversion to the overstated, Keith TOTP has produced a peculiarly ambitious sequence of songs. Dense, diverse, and full of life – this album, even in its’ accounts of heartbreak and loss, is an antidote to cynicism and apathy.
There’s an odd romance to be found in searching the ashtrays for something useful, and this is an album to soundtrack the sustained optimism of the seeker. When you think all that’s left is dregs and bullshit – Keith TOTP somehow manages to straighten the record and find something worth smoking.
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