While Keane frontman Tom Chaplin has been performing sappy Christmas songs during the band’s hiatus, other Keane members Tim Rice-Oxley and Jesse Quin formed the country band Mt. Desolation. Their first album, the eponymous Mt. Desolation, explored the worlds of blues and country with the help of members of Mumford and Sons, Noah and the Whale and The Staves to middling results. This time they’re going it alone, with the help of extended Mt. Desolation family Phil Renna, Fimbo and Philip Scott-Ilsoe, to create When the Night Calls, their first record in eight years, which, for the most part, continues the run-of-the-mill formula set by the first record. It’s more of the same from the duo: safe country-pop, dominated by themes of love, loss and independence. As a record, it’s not that it’s bad, it just seems to lack any sense of purpose or ambition.
The Americana roots don’t stop with the musical content, either. The lyrical themes running through When the Night Calls are that of freedom, or thereby loss of freedom, and that of the idea of growing out of adolescence, maturing and facing your responsibilities. It’s a slightly more ruminating project this time around, exploring more personal experiences for the duo, but still with that country-tinged flair. Like the first record, it’s played considerably safe, like the duo are begging for BBC Radio 2 air time. Every song is kept consciously straightforward and low-key, with the production almost too delicate and unfussy at times. In essence, When the Night Calls is stripped-back, virtually deployed as a convincing vehicle for the duo’s undisputed melodic gifts, but a touch of experimentation would have been more than nice to see.
However, the first cut from the record, ‘Distraction’, certainly the best song on the record, is an exciting number. A slice of pop-rock propelled by solid drums, guitars and weighty pianos coming together in a beautiful crescendo, it’s a carefree anthem that just about nails the country-rock euphoria and the sense of weight and purpose the band have been striving for all this time. It’s warm and exquisitely shaped, and an interesting reminder of why Rice-Oxley and Quin were such sought after songwriters and musicians in the early-to-mid-00s.
For the most part, though, When the Night Calls is a collection of uninspired, humdrum, yet pleasant songs that will certainly do their job for certain audiences. At times, Rice-Oxley and Quin’s lyrics can fall into banality, and can sometimes be overly romantic as to drop into cliche. Additionally, it’s a touch too predictable at times but, the most disappointing aspect, is it doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere. Rice-Oxley stated, “Mt. Desolation is as much about hanging out with our friends and the joy of playing music in a room together, as it is about actually having a recording to listen back to,” and it feels exactly like that.
There’s a saying that, most of the time, if you enjoyed the experience of creating art it won’t turn out as good as you hoped and When the Night Calls smacks of a group of friends creating something because they can, not because they want, or need, to. It’s not going upset the applecart, nor is it going to set the world alight, but there’s some decent, easy-listening tunes that will perhaps tide Keane fans over until the band return. As side projects away from Keane go, however, this is miles better than Chaplin’s lukewarm effort as a pop crooner. Then again, is that much of an achievement?