Like Travis, it seemed Stereophonics couldn’t write a bad song in the early-2000s. For one of those bands, that tradition has continued up to present day with the release of Keep the Village Alive, the second in a now-mooted trilogy that will apparently end here. Too bad, too, because there’s an impressive yield of ace tracks from the hand of the always-reliable Kelly Jones.
Thing is, you usually know what you’re going to get with this Welsh lot and yet they never make the same record twice. There’s something familiar about the opening “C’est La Vie” and the string-laden ballad “My Hero” (an endlessly memorable number tailor-made for the live setting—try not waving your mobile phone in time with this one) and yet they sound as fresh as anything the Phonics have done in the entirety of their career. They sound of the time when we first came to know the lads and yet up-to-date or even from a moment or two in the future. Witness “White Lies”, with its ebullient bass figures, soaring guitars and fist-waving builds. It’s the kind of thing you would have heard on the radio sometime around 1999 and yet you never quite feel that it’s old hat. Instead, it’s like coming home to a friend you haven’t seen in some time.
And, yeah, you’ll be thrown back to the golden age of those Stone Roses by “Sing Little Sister”, a track that nods—perhaps unintentionally—to that less prolific outfit. You’ll also be cast back to the era of those Faces and others with the gorgeous “Sunny” and the folk-tinged “Into The World” and yet these cats have long ago established themselves strongly enough that you can’t mistake these tunes for having come anywhere else but from the mouth of the Stereophonics.
It’s interesting to note that in a time when so many are moaning and gnashing their teeth about the death of the album acts like this continue to impress by delivering a collection on which each piece fits together nicely and yet could stand alone just fine and be—you guessed it—singles. It’s not hard to imagine that in a better world we would, and that our children and grandchildren would as well, know each of these songs by heart. Maybe they will.
The deluxe edition arrives with a second disc featuring some more adventurous (read: occasionally weirder, occasionally mellower) and it’s the kind of thing that you won’t wanna miss. Maybe the best is the all-out rocker “Ancient Rome”, with its searing guitar lines and crash course in attitude-driven songwriting. It’s the kind of beat that gets one out of their chair and into the aisles. And beyond. “Blame (You Never Give Me Your Money)”, on the other hand, is a gripping track that doesn’t sound quite like anything you’ve heard before. It’s not exactly avant-garde but it reveals itself in unexpected way, giving the listener a fair share of surprise and sublime rock along the way.
“You Are My Energy” asks listeners to imagine Stereolab as drive by heavy guitars and infectious choruses with a dose of Velvet Underground thrown in for good measure. And before you go dismissing the two acoustic versions of material found on the first disc, remember that this is the band that covered “Handbags and Gladrags” and made it better.
A real adventure is listening.
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