Keane ‘The Very Best of Keane’ – Review

8 Dec

You have to wonder why greatest hits exist in 2013. Thanks to Itunes and Spotify, we are perfectly capable of putting our own compilations and playlists together in a matter of minutes. We are our own curators. We are in charge of what we want to listen to, not labels. I guess they still serve a useful purpose in that they allow fans and critics an opportunity to reflect on an artist’s achievements collectively. They also serve as an entry point into an artist’s carear for new comers – which is certainly needed in the case of somebody like Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan (both of whom have released ‘best ofs’ recently). Even In the case of The Killers, who released ‘Direct Hits’ last week, that concise and carefully selected greatest hits felt meaningful, as the pop-minded band had spent so long working towards it – every single they’ve released seemed to have one eye on that inevitable milestone.

However In the case of Keane, ‘The Best of Keane’, feels redundant. For starters it is neither concise nor carefully selected. I’m a Keane fan but I would struggle to sit through 20 of their songs in a row – and that’s only the one disc edition! As a result, it’s inevitably hard work, made harder by the odd selection of songs. Only two tracks represent last year’s impressive ‘Strangeland’ and two more come from the underated and ambitious ‘Perfect Symmetry’. On the other hand, seven songs (seven!) are taken from the hit and miss ‘Under the Iron Sea’ – that’s over half the original album. Included in that selection are blatant album tracks like ‘Hamburg Song’ and ‘Atlantic’ both of which drag this compilation down like iron tonnes.

Another hinderance is the sequencing. The story of Keane is told chronologically, which puts everyone at a disadvantage. The first half of the album consists of the ballads they made their name on whilst the second half (barely) represents the more colourful and interesting styles they have since experimented with. A more imaginative approach to sequencing would have been to mix the old songs with the new, bringing out the best qualities in each song, balancing light and shade, finding the common elements that make Keane songs Keane songs. Instead a rather depressing narrative unfolds, in which Keane are introduced as bland miserablists who evolved into a confident and ambitious pop group, failed to find hits, and reverted back to a tired version of their original persona. But Hopes and Fears really isn’t as dreary as the songs that represent it here make out, and ‘Strangeland’ is so much more interesting than ‘Silenced by the Night’ suggests.

Actually, each Keane album is worth exploring. Of the four released to date, ‘Hopes and Fears’ is the one that stands out as a classic. But It’s one of those albums that remains as unloved by critics as it is adored by the public. ‘The Very Best Of’ will do nothing to alter that perception critics have of it. Strung together at the start of a greatest hits these 2004 singles may lack the necessary punch, but they’re still great songs. For me, Keane nailed the post-Radiohead anthemic ballads that were oh-so on trend a decade ago. There is more emotional complexity explored on ‘Hopes and Fears’ than Coldplay managed over the course of a decade – let alone Snow Patrol, Athlete or Starsailer. These were songs that dealt with growing up and growing apart honestly, directly and with bags of emotion. But unfortunately we only get a glimpse of that here.

Of course ‘The Very Best Of…’ does just enough for the public at large, which is all the label probably wants. They care about ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ getting a few extra downloads (a song that is currently number one thanks to Lilly Allen’s bland cover) but they don’t care about presenting Keane in a new light. They’ve chosen to emphasise the slow ballads people know the group for and virtually ignore the more ‘experimental’ side. Which is a shame mainly because ‘experimental’ Keane are still wholly accessable and emotionally forthright (and really not that experimental anyway!). If that’s the Keane we choose to remember then I suggest we forget about ‘The Very Best Of’ and get our own playlists together.

6/10

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