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Keith Levene
CZ2014 Julian Marszalek , January 20th, 2015 15:33

Thanks in no small part to the received wisdom propagated by baby boomers as to what a guitarist should be doing, not mention his own haphazard career, the contribution of Keith Levene to the cultural landscape tends to get short shrift. Best known as an early member of The Clash and a cornerstone of John Lydon's post-Pistols excursion in Public Image Limited, his idiosyncratic mastery of his instrument saw him depart the former to make a monumental contribution with the latter, where the line was drawn more firmly in the sand than punk, in its initial seismic burst, ever could. Equally overlooked are Levene's experimentations with synthesisers that also left their mark on the music he created with Lydon, PiL bassist Jah Wobble and a revolving door policy where drummers were concerned.

CZ2014 isn't a revisiting of Commercial Zone, the semi-official release of music he'd made for what would eventually become PiL's This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get in the wake of his departure, but a new collection of music recorded in Prague after a successful crowd sourcing campaign. The resulting collection of music, assembled in no particular order that allows the listener to create their own sequence to their satisfaction, walks a tightrope that veers from the frustrating to the satisfying.

What quickly becomes apparent are the myriad ideas, shades and tones that colour the largely instrumental album. There's an a la carte quality about the music on offer but it's difficult to shake the feeling that Levene would've benefited from the input of an outside producer. As displayed by tracks such as 'After Over' and 'After After', the tendency to wander off without a meaningful conclusion is all too obvious and so, consequently, the music is robbed of its impact.

But these are minor quibbles as elsewhere Levene's talent shines through to quite brilliant effect. The squalling metallic guitar that drives 'Call It Day' turns the song into a huge swaggering beast that finds his compressed vocals delivered in a disdainful sneer while his shimmering playing, coupled with woozy and disorientating strings on 'Bits Of Prague', all propelled by programmed beats, are displays of a singular talent at work. As mentioned earlier, there's more to Levene than being a guitarist and his visits into more techno-flecked territory are what linger most. 'They Came To Dance' and 'They Came To Dance 2' find Levene fusing elements of the low rumble and dread of dub with hypnotic flashes of synths and a flickering motif that ducks in and out to lodge itself in the ear long after the effect.

It'll be interesting to see what Levene comes up with next, for contained within CZ2014 are ideas and executions that could well act as a springboard for greatness. Though the album remains uneven, its moments of pleasure overwhelm the shortcomings to prove that the best of a solo career may be yet to come from an artist who is far from being down and out.

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