Saturday 24 March 2018

Keane play it safe with piano anthems

Album of the week

Keane perform
Keane perform
John Meagher

John Meagher

Keane's cherubic-faced frontman Tom Chaplin has been talking about the band's last album, 2008's Perfect Symmetry: "It was a little bit self-indulgent in places. Sonically, we referenced Bowie, Talking Heads -- those kind of bands -- which was quite an unusual step for us."

Now, though -- perhaps mindful of the original fans who were put off by that album's daring direction -- Chaplin has said Keane are returning to the sort of piano-led anthems that had 21 different record labels vying for their signature in the middle part of the past decade.

Yet, it was this very willingness to experiment, to harness the full potential of the studio, that had made those previously immune to the polite boys from middle England take notice and reappraise. It was this very lack of earnest balladeering that seemed to revitalise the band. But Chaplin's comments and those of chief songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley -- a man who bounces about on his piano stool like one suffering a particularly bad bout of haemorrhoids -- suggest they're happiest when staying well within their comfort zone.

And Strangeland is an album that does just that. For all those who wanted a second Hopes & Fears, it's here -- a dozen smartly crafted songs from four people (the band's membership has swelled to include newcomer Jesse Quin) who are not afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves.

But the sparkle that was so evident on Perfect Symmetry is only fleetingly present here. All too often, Rice-Oxley's competent compositions are just a little bit too lightweight, despite the frequent ornate dressing.

There are echoes of others in the songs -- a list that includes such vagaries as Radiohead and Damien Rice -- but Keane struggle to elevate their music to those sort of levels. And, truth be told, there are precious few tracks here that boast the catch-all appeal of Everybody's Changing and Somewhere Only We Know from the first album.

A notable exception is Sovereign Light Cafe -- a vaguely Springsteenesque meditation on youth and first love. "We were friends and lovers and clueless clowns," sings Chaplin, the gentle song a far better showcase for his vocals than the epic numbers.

And on Black Rain, a portentous and ever so slightly pretentious song, the band allow themselves some moments of self-indulgence that only serve to illustrate what they're capable of in those rare times when they're not playing safe.

Key tracks Sovereign Light Cafe

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