[Reviewed by Peter Marks]
The album I’ve been wanting for years and fittingly enough, the one it took him ending Keef Baker to put out. The landscape is littered by shoddily slapped together outtake/demo releases but among this jaundiced rabble you will get the occasional vein of gold. Puppy have done it repeatedly with their Back and Forth series, Curve dug deep after their demise, John Sellekaers pulled it off handily through internet archiving and now Cap’n Baker here empties out his cupboard at last. These are no tidbits, either, no effort has been spared in collecting this assortment of strays; the scope is almost beyond reasoning but plug away dutiful ears, you’ve got a decadent feast to plow through.
No chronology is supplied for ‘Barren’, you have to take your best guess as to what era of Keef you’re hearing but one thing to keep in mind is that these, for the most part, were never intended for wider release. Rarities would be an understatement. Unless you’ve been painstakingly harvesting his material on each and every compilation he’s been on, you will not have heard a lot of what’s going on here. Don’t be flummoxed if you’re one of the few who have… there’s more than enough which I am damn certain has never ever seen the light of day to sate you. ‘Barren’ took up two blank discs, that’s the short of it. Here come the ones I’m currently unable to dislodge from my head.
“Moar Ambient Pls Kthxbye”, “Midnight Doodle”, “Funky Franks Frightening Friday Fistparty”, “Counting Pencils” and his Human League cover “Seconds”. Where did these come from? How in the hell was he able to keep them to himself for so long, especially “Seconds”. I owned the single it came on and never in a billion years did I suspect that a guy like Keef would do a version of it. It isn’t one of the League’s most known tunes and at the time they were conquering the world this beauty showed that in spite of success, they knew where they’d come from and weren’t about to forget. “Midnight Doodle” lives up to it’s name splendidly, the quieter gentler side of Keef Baker… say what? You think you know what he’s capable of and then something like “Counting Pencils” comes along and you sit there wondering who this is. Fantastic!
Spending a lot of time with these 18 is the only way you’ll appreciate them, sorry Youtubers. If ‘Dry’ was the premise then what’s contained here is the conclusion. Probably a lot of fun was had re-visiting these pieces, Keef put on his archeologist’s gear to do this; strata after strata of time to dig up and he dutifully went at it with his equipment. Dusting off a progression here, a spot of polish for that bed of atmosphere there… oh hey look, I’d forgotten all about this one! Remember the day I made “Digby”, or the afternoon “Bartled” came to life? This is about how I think it went and I could be wrong but there’s some giddiness bleeding through on ‘Barren’ you just can’t deny. Nice to hear a guy enjoying what he does, a lot of musicians out there are quite dreary.
Eventually, though, all good things must come to an end and so part two of his final album does. He bows out and takes his curtain call with graceful aplomb, leaving just that cupboard on stage under the glaring lights. There is nothing left now… only an empty, barren space staring back.