REVIEW: Keane’s Three Albums

It is such as relief that among the ridiculously catchy, monotonous and uninspired pop music we now have today, Britain still offers us some damn fine music. Keane remains to be one of those mainstream bands who I would personally refuse to bring together to the likes of Coldplay, Robbie Williams and Oasis (may their soul rest in peace). So decided to do some quick review of their first three albums.

Hopes and Fears (2004) 

1.”Somewhere Only We Know”  3:57
2.”Bend and Break”  3:40
3.”We Might as Well Be Strangers”  3:12
4.”Everybody’s Changing”  3:35
5.”Your Eyes Open”  3:23
6.”She Has No Time”  5:45
7.”Can’t Stop Now”  3:38
8.”Sunshine”  4:12
9.”This Is the Last Time”  3:29
10.”On a Day Like Today”  5:27
11.”Untitled 1″  5:3612.”Bedshaped”  4:38

Hopes and Fears, their successful debut album, gained them the mark as a ‘piano rock’ band. Piano rock, as in  ‘rock’ which uses piano as the main instrument rather than the guitar. And without bass guitar. However, I prefer to use the brand ‘emo-like-crazy-and-crying-over-wrist-slashing-songs’ as a label to them with respect to this album, if ever there is a genre like that.

Almost all songs (including the B-sides of the singles they released from this album) are catchy; perfect as pop tunes.  “Everybody’s Changing”, the first song I heard from them (I was first year in high school then) has a very simple beat but its lyrics is somewhat sad, enigmatic, if not entirely non-sense. My housemate plays “We Might As Well Be Strangers” and “She Has No Time” before the sleeps and while he drinks his midnight gin, talking about his ex-girlfriend again. “Bedshaped” sounds like a funeral song, I do not know about its lyrics. “Sunshine” is sad and cute, perfect when I am walking alone at 11 pm after a day of self-deceiving fun.

Of course, despite the prevalence of gloom and doom in the album does not mean that it does not have some ‘happy moments’. “Bend and Break” is quite energetic (has a fast beat, appropriate music for some morning bending exercises and a few back-breaking crunches. “This is the Last Time” reveals some angst, dispelling the defeatist attitude established by the subsequent bitter songs in the album. “Can’t Stop Now” is also quite happy, almost identical in attitude with the B-side “Snowed Under”.

So for the best songs in the album: again, as most albums, it is hard to pick a ‘best song’, but for the matter of concluding I would pick “This is the Last Time”, “Sunshine” and “Snowed Under.” These are all gems, all are written in different lyrical temperaments and musical style. Listening to these songs will give as a taste of the immense musical potentials of this band.

Under the Iron Sea (2006)

  1. Atlantic” – 4:13
  2. Is It Any Wonder?” – 3:06
  3. Nothing in My Way” – 4:00
  4. Leaving So Soon?” – 3:59
  5. A Bad Dream” – 5:06
  6. “Hamburg Song” – 4:37
  7. “Put It Behind You” – 3:36
  8. “The Iron Sea” – 2:57
  9. Crystal Ball” – 3:53
  10. Try Again” – 4:27
  11. “Broken Toy” – 6:07
  12. The Frog Prince” – 4:22
  13. “Let It Slide (Japanese bonus track) – 4:12

Many listeners who established Keane as the one in Hopes and Fears are disappointed in this album. Heck, the album has used bass guitar (analog and synthesized) extensively. It is still debatable if the rock is ‘piano rock’ as there is more 80s new age keyboards here than piano. And Tom Chaplin the vocalist moves a lot gayer in the music videos they created for the singles in his album.

“Is It Any Wonder”, if I’m not mistaken, is the first single they release for the album. And I think the song is the ugliest in the album. It is quite bland, and it sounds more like Phil Collins-era Genesis than Keane to me.  Nonetheless, “Nothing in My Way”, “Leaving So Soon” and “A Bad Dream” maintained the psychological aspect of Hopes and Fears and played with the idea of isolation of loneliness, isolation, goodbyes, etc. “The Hamburg Song” displayed one of the most artisitc organ-piano duets I have ever heard in a song. Plus the melody is constructed on large intervals, so Chaplin’s singing appeared somewhat operatic ala Freddie Mercury of Queen. Summarily, the first six songs are rather dark, psychological and distressing.

“Put It Behind You” opened the second half of the album with a new, faster tempo, again showing the lighter side of Keane, telling us to put the dark aspects of life (and the album) behind us. Next comes the epic-sounding songs “The Iron Sea” and “Crystal Ball.” “The Iron Sea,” Keane’s first instrumental track, is somewhat bland, but it achieves the effect of being an ice-breaking intermission. Great recording technique utilized semi-homophonic sounds juggling left and right through our ears. An explosion of a G-chord erupts towards the end of song, signaling the start of “Crystal Ball.” This makes “Crystal Ball” my favorite track in the song. “Try Again”, another desperado, melancholic song, dives us back into an emotional ebb of the album. This song is another good stuff.

“Broken Toy” and “The Frog Prince” are somewhat melodramatic songs which tackle issues of weariness and alienation but treats the subject in lighter approaches. “Broken Toy”, of course is sad, but it tends to overdo it with backing vocals doing creepy ‘aahhs’ and ‘oohhs’ and sentences violating the rule of parallelism(‘Who says the river can’t leave its water/who says the city can’t change its borders/who says you’re mine). “The Frog Prince” is a great song to end the album, as it is very lively and even childish in some moments.

Perfect Symmetry (2008)

1. “Spiralling” 4:19
2. “The Lovers Are Losing” 5:04
3. “Better Than This” 4:03
4. “You Haven’t Told Me Anything” 3:47
5. “Perfect Symmetry” 5:12
6. “You Don’t See Me” 4:03
7. “Again and Again” 3:50
8. “Playing Along” 5:35
9. “Pretend That You’re Alone” 3:47
10. “Black Burning Heart” 5:23
11. “Love Is the End” 5:37

This album is a radical break from the group’s signature ‘piano rock’. While the piano maintained its integral role in their sound, it was draped in a wide away of sounds, ranging from distorted piano to crunch guitar. Every song in the album was extravagantly embellished, lively and at times orgasmically cacophonic.

The album was shocking from the first seconds. The multi-vocal shouts and the distorted trumpet sounds at the beginning of “Spiralling” was so unexpected that I peered at my player to check if this is really Keane. It sounds like a Phil Collins-era Genesis or the 8Os era/synthesizer-decadent Queen. No need to verify the authenticity, however, when Chaplin started hitting the lyrics with his raunchy, textured voice. The melodramatic band has some balls after all.

‘Energy’ is what knits every track in this album. There is an endless stream of momentum, sometimes slowing down but will eventually kick it back in reckless acceleration. “The Lover’s Are Losing” starts with an almost startling bang chord which will ascend in the infectious chorus. A playful bass line emerges in spotlight in “Better Than This”, uncharacteristic of the bass-less sound of previous albums. ‘Perfect Symmetry” works well as a power ballad, but sadly it was too mushy for me (especially the lyrics), After a brief rest in “You Don’t See Me”, the band kicks ass again in “Again and Again.” “Playing Along” is sad, desperate, almost dirge-like, climaxing in an excruciating crescendo of wails. “Pretend That Your Alone” retains the momentum, playing it with tongue-in-cheek and hand-in-waist casualness. “Love Is End” ends the album in a restful tone, almost like a haven throughout the tiring but enjoyable hear.

To sum it up: “Hopes and Fears” is Keane in its naive, melodramatic infancy, but the latent talent is evident. “Under the Iron Sea” is very dark and also very experimental. “Perfect Symmetry”, however, is the cleanest, most enjoyable and mature effort they have done.

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