Keane ‘Strangeland’ – Review

20 May

Mums like Keane so critics don’t. Their music is inoffensive, they’re from a middle class background and they don’t have a guitarist. But the Fact is Keane are extremely good at what they do; when they are firing on all cylinders they are better than Coldplay or Snow Patrol for starters.  Unfortunately what they do is loathed by the influential music press despite being loved by the public. There is a correlation between these two facts as popular bands often make popular targets – notice how the press raved about Kings of Leon, Coldplay, Kaiser Chiefs, Snow Patrol, The Killers etc (the list could go on) until they started bothering the charts? But as Keane pointed out last week, they have never been popular in a trendy trendy way and, despite what you might hear, they’ve never stuck to one particular style or sound. Listening to their albums in a row again recently, I was surprised at the variety contained in their older albums.

So what exactly is it that Keane do well? Firstly, praise needs to be given for how BIG their records sound. A couple of years ago they released a deluxe edition of ‘Hopes and Fears’ which included some old demos; these demos featured the same instruments that were eventually used on the album but in comparison the songs sound sparse, flat and lacking. Somewhow, on all their albums, Keane manage to make Voice, drums and piano sound epic, and I’m not entirely sure how they do it. On ‘Strangeland’, despite minimal and unffussy arrangements, these songs sounds fully formed, anthemic and never undercooked. In particular, the Springstein-esque ‘Sovereign Light Cafe’ sounds dramatic and widescreen despite featuring only a handful of instruments.

Secondly, Keane manage to make your heart yearn with frankly rather soppy and cliched lyrics. On paper some of these lines read like bad sixth form poetry, but when Tom Chaplin wraps his vocal chords around them they are more than effective. Everyone knows what he means when he says ‘I Feel like I just don’t know you anymore’ or ‘I want to love the way we did back then’. When he’s not messing about with cheesy metaphors, Chaplin has a potent way of hitting the nail on the head.

The name of the album is ‘Strangeland’ but a more appropriate one, had they not already used it, would be ‘Hopes and Fears’. Whereas their debut was more pessimistic, focusing on the fears, ‘Strangeland’ concentrates on hope.’ We’re gonna rise again’ he sings on first single ‘Silenced by the Night’. Elsewhere he croons ‘Your whole life lies ahead, it’s just around the bend’ then ‘though it seems so far away, the day will come’. Critics will (and have) argued that these lyrics are trite or obvious, but they have positive qualities these critics are overlooking. These lyrics are uplifting, they are inclusive and they are ambiguous without being vague (take note Coldplay).

Keane pushed the boat out successfully on their 2008 album ‘Perfect Symmetry’, and then they pushed it out too far on their 2010 mini album ‘Night Train’. I remember thinking that they weren’t playing to their strengths, they were playing to the critics and I couldn’t see why they would want that. Thankfully on ‘Strangeland’ they are harking back to that classic debut album. It’s obvious before you even put the record on – the cover features the same typography as the debut, and the band’s logo is positioned squarely in the centre of the cover, as it was on the debut and there is a focus on melodies rather than experimentation. ‘Disconnected’ has a particularly catchy melody and it should have been chosen as first single over the slightly bland ‘Silenced by the Night’.

Whilst Keane have largely (and thankfully) stuck to what they’re good at, there have been subtle changes, and not necessarily for the better. Tom Chaplin’s voice is deeper and stronger but I rather liked his fragile falsetto, and it’s rarely used here (although ‘Sea Fog’ is a beautiful example of it in full action). Keane seem to have developed a tendency to want to crank everything up to the maximum, and not just vocally. There are none of the ambient interludes that were so compelling on ‘Hopes and Fears’ and ‘Under the Iron Sea’, and too often the band belt out songs that require a more delicate touch. I wonder if this is something the producer should have spotted and fixed – a little light and shade would take ‘Strangeland’ from a great album to their best one yet.

Mainstream pop in 2012 is a very different world to 2004, and Keane are more underdogs than ever. ‘Somewhere Only We Know’, ‘Everybody’s Changing’ and ‘Is It Any Wonder’ were big hits, but none of the songs on ‘Strangeland’ will bother the charts, which is a shame because this is filled with fantastic tunes. ‘Day Will Come’ sounds like a long lost classic and ‘On the Road’ proves that the band can do energetic songs just as well as ballads. Their fondness for cliches and uplifting lyrics will never endear them to critics but their fans are passionate and dedicated. It’s this audience that Keane are now playing for, and that is a wise decision. ‘Strangeland’ may not better ‘Hopes and Fears’ but it may be their best album since.



One Response to “Keane ‘Strangeland’ – Review”

  1. Joseph Hungry May 21, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

    Keane’s still at it eh? Well, hopefully they can bring back some of that old magic.

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