Sunday, June 10, 2012

Back to basics for Keane

album review

On Strangeland, Keane return to the familiar territory of piano-led anthems. Instep lends an ear

Band: Keane
Album: Strangeland

Not many artists get to see their debut album top the charts. Fewer still know what it’s like to have five consecutive number one records. Keane, though, are lucky enough to be a part of this select group. Ever since they first stormed the music scene with Hopes and Fears in 2004, the band has consistently earned both success and praise, but the group has, quite predictably, also had to face perhaps a tad more than their fair share of criticism. Many appreciate Keane’s melodic pop sensibilities and enjoy their sublime tunes; others have labelled them Coldplay-lite and dismissed their efforts as middle of the road and dull. But while their sound might have been critically divisive, all of the band’s studio releases so far have conquered the UK charts and collectively sold millions of copies along the way. So it’s safe to say that as far as the mainstream audience goes, Keane is clearly doing something right, and their fans will be pleased to know that the band has chosen to stick to their strengths on their new album, Strangeland.

Best known for their piano driven pop rock tunes, Keane decided to take a detour into synthpop with their previous album. Now, with the electronic experimentations of Perfect Symmetry behind them, the group returns to the familiar territory of piano-led anthems in their first new full-length studio album in nearly four years. Produced by Dan Grech-Marguerat, Strangeland includes twelve songs (sixteen on the deluxe edition), and sees the quartet from East Sussex focus on anthemic ballads, with Tom Chaplin’s smooth vocals shining on a canvas of Tim Rice-Oxley’s twinkling piano.

There are shades of yearning, longing, and hope in Strangeland, as the band offers maudlin reflections on life. The vocals and instrumentation are in harmony and complement each other throughout the record. As far as the sound goes, it is still inherently the same as their earlier releases, and the stronger material is revealed as the album progresses. The lead single ‘Silenced by the Night’ is a crowd pleaser bound to satisfy fans; the nostalgic ‘Sovereign Light Cafe’ reminisces on times gone by, conjuring up a Springsteen-esque reveries; the uplifting ‘On the Road’ promises better things ahead; ‘Neon River’ deals with being left behind; ‘Black Rain’ brings Radiohead to mind; while the stripped album closer ‘Sea Fog’ brings the record to a sombre yet beautiful end.

Strangeland is an enjoyable album, despite some trite lyrics and occasional overload of schmaltz. It is a safe record that makes no effort to offer any dramatic switches or subject the listeners to  drastic changes; the group go back to the melodic sound that initially won them fame. The song structures are somewhat predictable, and at times the standard wistful piano ballads seem a little monochrome, but there aren’t any major missteps as far as the songs go. As such there isn’t much wrong with the tracks individually; however, put together the set might be pleasant but it isn’t very inventive or imaginative. It lacks the edge of their previous studio release, and it isn’t a daring experimental record, but then again, it doesn’t necessarily need to be. There are plenty of beautiful melodies, wistful sentiments, and tunes that make you want to sing along on the album. And while it might not be able to compete with Hopes and Fears in terms of immediacy and charm, Strangeland is very likely to remind fans why they fell in love with Keane in the first place.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 10th June, 2012

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