Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Patrick Stolley
Tim-Rice Oxley sings about finding some comfort in a bar, right in the middle of a great, late album track, "State of Our Affairs," and it's inside a similar joint - with lines and lines of bottles against the wall -- that the Keane piano player and his bandmate/bass player Jesse Quin hatched the idea of one day making a country album. What came of those conversations, over pints across the world, is a self-titled record that exhibits some of that found comfort, or whatever it was that was originally being sought. It comes out in a record that oddly enough has a song literally titled exactly what gets swallowed by the characters on it, over and over again: bitter pills. It's all portrayed with an apple-picking, harvest time reserve that gives these two Englishmen as much claim to the feel of American country music as anyone. As they play through "State of Our Affairs" on this session, the outro even features Mt. Desolation breaking into a few bars of Robbie Robertson's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," as if tipping the cap to their chief inspirations for this project, The Band. Rice Oxley and Quin, surrounded by an impressive supporting cast that on record features members of Mumford & Sons, Noah and the Whale, The Long Winters and The Killers, amongst others, have made a representation of their own Big Pink, or a state of mind that could get them into the crummy doors and with paltry furnishings and down into the dank basement of that hallowed dump of a house in upstate New York where Robertson, Levon Helm, Bob Dylan and crew made magical musical moments happen on cue during the 1960s. They attempt to take themselves there in their heads and it mostly works as they pull together feelings of happiness being ripped apart and put back together with long strips of Scotch tape, as one does with a book that a child's torn to pieces with his or her reckless and careless hands. The happiness only gets so far back, but the reality is that everyone can see that it's needed some help, some mending and that makes it tainted quite a lot. It's lovely to hear it sung so nicely though and Rice Oxley, as a first-time lead singer, is good at channeling the wind and sun-whipped discouragement of a blue collared man working for slim pickings, with nothing but his family to bring him his smiles and his pride. Rice Oxley sings, "We find we're all just ordinary men," and it could be the greatest lesson on the entire album, not to mention, the reason that these two men chose to make this record in the first place - to get to a point where they are exploring those common virtues as seen through the sad eyes being rubbed by proud, calloused hands.