April 1997 – album reviews – Matt Keating’s ‘Killjoy’ (“one of those people who speaks openly of the little wounds we all Band-Aid our souls over and shut up about”)

10 Apr

Matt Keating: 'Killjoy'

Matt Keating: ‘Killjoy’

Heard it all before, but I can always hear it again.

Matt Keating is one of those characters who’s always to be found blowing in off the road and settling himself on the stage. The sort of guy who could quite easily survive in a world made up merely of roads, acoustic guitars, small vans, and at every stop a bar with a stage. His music’s of that well-worn style that’s like those magical rock star jeans Springsteen’s patented that never wear out, just go on weathering forever.

You’ve heard what it’s like many times before, in a world where guitars are sharp, to the point, and preferably recorded in one take in a converted potato shed (or a basement eight track in Matt’s case) and where Neil Young, Tom Petty et al still have the last word in what something should sound like. But with ‘Killjoy’, where it’s at is in what he’s saying, not how he sounds.

‘Killjoy’ is a bleak, wistful record. Memories of apartments and arguments, knowing that you’re too smart to deserve the fate you’re doling out to yourself, but too much pulled down by slack to get out of it. The travelogue of a not-so-beautiful loser, punctuated by cracks of sharp, self-aware laughter: “you wanted a man of substance, you got one with substance abuse”, or “once in a while I lose control, and gain my soul.” Matt’s world is one where it’s a constant struggle to crawl out from under the rocks: shame, despondency, the baggage of the past. In the dozen songs on this record, he drags himself about halfway out. The beaky stare he’s giving me off the back of the album seems to say “well, I try, but it’s life that slumps.”

That said, it’s not one of those whinging therapy records, even if The L Word’s chunky garage guitar and swamp-bird slide hints otherwise. In a post-breakdown breakdown of all the denials in a life, Matt explores the words for the ideas which people forbid themselves to say out of fear, and thereby condemn themselves to ignorance and incapability. Suicide, the mysteries of sex, the terrors of commitment – all end up edged around in language reducing them from human situations to “specimens / floating in formaldehyde.”

Far better to try to get your message across, though more people seem to be spending their time escaping from the obligation to do this. You and Me and This TV has Matt and his girlfriend cheek-to-cheek in a small room, numbed out of conversation by the telly (“stranded on a cathode sea, surfing channels for days, / fixing our gaze – not on each other”), as he pleads “just hit the remote and read what I wrote / before the rays erase me.” Not that getting through is easy with the other things crawling out from under those rocks, too. Like the sour small town working man in While We Fiddle whose discontent leads him into the arms of right wing revolt: or the girl in Just to Feel Something who starts off cutting herself and ends up cutting off her own hope.

The perversity of human nature is on display everywhere. In the Leonard Cohen-ish drawl of The Fruit You Can’t Eat, Matt sourly comments “young people wish they were old, the old folks all wish they were young, / and some people wish they were dead, but most would just settle to see someone hung / for a crime they dream of committing, but commitment’s what they’re afraid of. / In this case the punishment’s fitting to wring your own hands ’til your fingers are numb.” Against this wounded cynicism you can set his compassion, continually coming through like cracks in a stone face – “I wouldn’t trade a day for the moments I’ve wasted / listening to your heart pound like a sad drummer’s beat.”

Like Mark Eitzel or Morrissey, he continually stares into the abyss yawning behind humanity’s tiny fractures, unable to ignore it. Transcendent despair and anger isn’t his way, though: more a sturdy refusal to give in. On By the Way, Matt might complain that “the pieces fit, but I’m still puzzled”, but he knows that to be alive means having to constantly deal with the swinging inconsistent gaps between aspiration, failure and effort: to recognise sometimes that “what you’ve mistaken for peaceful / is only the sound of good and evil’s uneasy truce.” And that being alive and caring about all this means that you’re stuck with the bittersweet burden.

On Happy Again, rolling around the outskirts of the Trees Lounge to the accompaniment of near-comatose piano, he announces “I don’t ever want to be happy again, I’m feeling too free. / I don’t ever want to feel something someone could steal. / But just between you and me I’m happy again again, and so terribly / ‘Cos I can’t even pretend that happiness won’t come to an end.”

In other words, he’s one of those people who speaks openly of the little wounds we all Band-Aid our souls over and shut up about: one of those people whom we handle with a little admiration, a little fear, both too intimate for comfort. Later, I’ll speak to Matt at the bar. I’ll buy him a drink when it’s my turn. We’ll spend about fifteen minutes chatting, but no more. When we part, we’ll have recognised a lot in each other; there’ll be a lot of sympathy, even. But we’ll probably not meet again. He’ll be back on the road, taking his tales of working TVs and broken relationships on to some new town and waking up fellow spirits there. I’ll go home with this album. Brief, shrugged encounter.

Matt Keating: ‘Killjoy’
Alias Records, A093 ADV (093716009320)
CD/LP album
8th April 1997
Get it from: Alias Records
Matt Keating online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace Soundcloud <Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Pandora Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

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