by Chris Familton
Belgian band dEUS are onto their sixth album in a career that stretches twenty years, yet they have made little impact in this part of the world since their first few albums in the second half of the 90s. Back then they were one of the bands that seemed to straddle the worlds of alt rock, grunge and art rock. They shared some of the early dynamics of Radiohead in that they embraced noise as comfortably as they did tender love songs. Many bands struggle through patches of weak content and a lack of connectivity with an audience and dEUS have experienced that on their last few records. Keep You Close finds them writing stronger and more tightly edited songs that suggest a renewed enthusiasm and new mood for the band.
The opener and title track is a slice of bombastic pop straight out of the Manic Street Preachers songbook. With rousing strings and a brisk pace it kicks things off with a sense of tension and bottled energy and reminds us how well dEUS can mix drama and pop music. The Final Blast takes things down a notch into darker territory and comes off like Split Enz on downers with its wonky, clanging piano before they again go large on Dark Sets In with the full range of singer Tom Barman’s vocals on display.
Balancing the classic with the esoteric is something that dEUS have alway flirted with yet only sparingly succeeded in achieving. Their misstep here is Ghost with spoken passages and strange “hoo ha” backing vocals. It comes across as overcooked and is physically tiring to listen to. The plus side to Ghost is that it serves to make the following track Constant Now sound even better than it already is. The key elements of pop, funk and soul all combine to thrilling effect, particularly the dub-tinged guitar stabs and Barman’s understated vocals.
The strongest moment on Keep You Close comes with The End of Romance, a gentle, tentative and yet softly propulsive song that works with spoken vocals when they sound detrimental elsewhere on the record. Everything is downplayed, the bass subversive and rolling while strings hover in the distance. The clincher comes midway through the song when Barman heads up the scales to a plaintiff place – pleading to Stephanie, the other party in a romance that has wilted.
dEUS felt like they were heading for the stable of acts that can knock out a few great singles on an album of filler but for now they have halted that trend and reignited the creativity that was so fertile on their early albums. This is by no means dEUS at the peak but at least they are now heading back up that mountain rather than quietly descending into anonymity.
this review was first published on FasterLouder