Isolation Party was one of Tommy Keene's career peaks, and one of the times where he managed to gel his taste in sonic crunch and his ability to write hooks in one place. Unfortunately, the winning streak doesn't continue for the spotty The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down, Keene's first new studio album in four years. While much of the record sounds as fantastic on the surface as Keene's earlier material, none of the songs have a hook on par with Places That Are Gone or Long Time Missing. The album's highlight and centerpiece is the 16-minute-long "The Final Hour," which sits right in the middle of the disc and bizarrely slices it into three parts. Despite its length, "The Final Hour" is fundamentally a basic Keene rocker, and more or less follows basic verse/chorus/verse conventions -- albeit for a wee bit longer than the other cuts on the album. And shoving it in the middle of the album's running order is certainly an attempt to thwart convention -- one would expect this to be the closer -- but it doesn't really help the disc (and, in fact, it destroys any semblance of flow) as much as show that Keene is open to trying new things. Apart from "The Final Hour," which -- qualms aside -- is actually one of the better cuts on the disc -- the album's best moments come in the other places where Keene tweaks with his own formula. After repeat listens, it's songs like the boozy closer, "The Fog Has Lifted," or the New Orleans R&B-influenced, horn-spiked "The Man Without a Soul" that stand out and beg to be regarded with the best of Keene's work. Despite its flaws, The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down is still a decent Keene record with enough highs to please anyone who came onboard with one of his earlier releases -- it's just not the place to start.
AllMusic Review by Jason Damas