The Royal Family & the Poor

In the Sea of E

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Mike Keane's first proper album on his own label, Gaia Communications, was a fairly rushed affair stitched together from two sessions in early 1987, but In the Sea of E -- once again featuring an all-new lineup backing Keane -- has its own joys to offer. In the end it's admittedly not quite as distinct as the two earlier albums, not simply because it's a bit rougher around the edges due to the lessened recording budgets. While all three of Keane's '80s studio efforts were of their decade, In the Sea of E sometimes slides away from shared atmosphere into cliché. The slightly strained yupfunk undercarriage on opening number "Living Light" and the lead synth on the otherwise excellent "Wounded" are two instances where it falls down a bit. But Keane's various talents, notably his high but never strained singing voice and his easy way at turning his various philosophical and esoteric beliefs into deft melodies and lyrics, serve him well regardless. "No More Compromise," for instance, breaks a fairly downbeat stretch on the album to provide something both catchy and not quite rock & roll, power pop in swathes of echo and not much guitar. In particular, "Song for Freedom" rivals his earlier triumph "I Love You" for transcendent but not overblown majesty, his vocals set against gospel-drone keyboards (shades of where Spacemen 3 would end up) in a simple but powerful celebration. Sometimes his emphasis on dark murk veers toward the cartoonish -- the vocal distortions on "Mr. Crow" raise a smile rather than the hairs on the neck -- but the glowering "Journey," with its brusque opening sample, more than makes up for it. As with the earlier albums, the 2003 re-release on Boutique included bonus tracks -- two songs from a near contemporary single and two otherwise unreleased demos from the time.

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