The United Kingdom’s Keith John Adams has three first names and his music is appropriately just as familiar and accessible. The aptly titled Unclever is, in fact, too comfortable, familiar, and accessible an experience. It certainly provides the soundtrack for some rump-shaking party fun, but that’s about the extent of it.
Unclever is full of some fine sonic sensibilities combining the blues-rocking of a sedated, but polished Jon Spencer, and the lyrical and vocal eccentricities of Jonathan Richman. Although the music is bouncy and bubble-gum joyous, there is relatively little arrangement or structure variance. In fact, the arrangements are extraordinarily simplistic with a minimum of instrumentation. As such, listening to the album as a whole leads to a sense that you might have heard the same song a few tracks earlier.
The lyrics are, at moments, intriguingly goofy and odd, but far more often, painfully silly and nonsensical. This shortcoming is somewhat abated by Keith’s skillful repetitive playground-chant delivery, which did make me wonder a bit if Keith might have had an earlier career as a middle-school bully. It is a bit too much to sustain for the whole album and it might make you feel like you’re being teased by a classmate, but the delivery does add a fresh and innovative shell to the otherwise lightweight lyrics.
The opening track, “Bed,” begins with a few lines that set the tone:
“Well you made your bed, now you lie in it. It’s an empty bed and it smells a bit. Get down, get down, get down, get down, if you looked into the mirror do you see a clown? Get down, get down, get down, get down, but if you looked into the mirror do you see a frown?”
There are some glimmering standouts. The best track on Unclever, “Elizabeth Hodgkinson Warzone,” has the subversive innocence of a rejected Shel Silverstein poem and a straighter alt-rock arrangement. Although the content itself doesn’t surpass the other tracks, something about its sneaky foot-tapping subterfuge and its ba-ba-ba chorus holds more water.
There is definitely an anti-folk gene pervading Keith John Adam’s DNA and as such, it’s never clear if he is mugging for you or at you, but it’s certain that his sincerity has been carefully hidden away back in the old country. You definitely won’t get much mental exercise listening to Unclever. If, however, Keith just wants you to tap your toes and shake your bum, he has succeeded.