June 18, 2012, 7:17 am
KEANE's new CD is more a "Wonderland" than a "Strangeland." The English alternative rock band still doing what they do best.
CONCERT: Keane will be coming to Portland on Tuesday, January 8, 2013 for a show at the Crystal Ballroom. Tickets
We first heard from KEANE when their debut album "Hopes and Fears" was released in 2004, spawning 2 hit singles: "Everybody's Changing," and "Somewhere Only We Know." Aside from lead singer Tom Chaplin's rich, pitch-perfect vocals, the band's distinctive, sweeping sound is owed to their use of piano as lead instrument rather than guitars.
As for "Hopes and Fears," it went on to win several awards and was the second best-selling British album of the year.
KEANE's fourth and newest release opens with the big, soaring sound of "You Are Young" and it's comforting chorus, proclaiming: "You've got time to realize / you're shielded by the hands of love / 'cause you are young." "Silenced by the Night," the hit single that's been delighting the ears of KINK listeners the last few weeks, follows a similar formula. Is that a bad thing? If your musical tastes gravitate toward bold, uplifting rock music with a hint of pop and a great backbeat, not at all. With its enduring themes of love and reunification, it seems perfectly crafted for arena-sized enjoyment.
And, it's always a good thing to find songs on an album you think merit more radio airplay than the hit single you're already enjoying. "Disconnected" is such a track. "Something's crept in under our door," sings Chaplin, going on to describe the symptoms of a love relationship coming unglued. But he sounds so upbeat through it all, we can't help but hum and feel hopeful. Plus, its got this light, playful little interlude reminiscent of one of the sunnier tracks from The Beatle's White album right in the middle of it.
Disconnected? Well, if there's a disconnection here, we don't mind at all.
A little band
Three of the band members - Tim Rice-Oxley, Richard Hughes, and Chaplin - have been friends since early school-days. Later, while attending University College London in 1993, pianist Rice-Oxley formed a rock band with Richard Hughes as drummer. They called themselves "Lotus Eaters," initially performing cover songs of their favorite bands including U2, Oasis and The Beatles. At that time, the newly-formed Coldplay's Chris Martin heard Rice-Oxley's piano playing, inviting him to join Coldplay; preferring to stay with Lotus Eaters, Rice-Oxley declined. Tom Chaplin joined the band soon after, taking his place as lead vocalist and also adding himself as acoustic guitarist. After this the band changed their name to KEANE.
Following "Hopes and Fears," "Under the Iron Sea" was released to critical acclaim in 2006, and included hit singles "Nothing in My Way" and "Is It Any Wonder?". During the world tour for this album Chaplin admitted himself to a clinic for drinking and drug problems. Chaplin told The Sun newspaper in 2010 he had been clean of drugs for several years, preferring to play golf rather than party.
With their third CD, the 2008 "Perfect Symmetry," the band made a departure from previous albums using guitars and more synthesizers than previous works. Fast-forward to this year...
Strangeland is KEANE's fifth consecutive number one album in the UK
When "Strangeland" was released in the UK last month, KEANE claimed their fifth consecutive number one album in the UK…a record only beaten by The Beatles. In the U.S., it debuted at the number 6 spot of Billboard's "hot 100" rock albums.
It isn't difficult to see why Keane's had such staying power, as we take in songs like Strangeland's "Sovereign Light Cafe." Picturesque lyrics recount a special time and place, beckoning parted lovers to come together and "go down to the bandstand on the pier." "Let's go down to the rides on east parade / By the lights of the palace arcade / And watch night coming down on the Sovereign Light Cafe,'" bursts the chorus. Poetic and nostalgic? Sure. Imagery's a bit like "Born to Run" revisited…only this time, we're picturing East Sussex, not New Jersey.
Perhaps the most touching track on the new release is "Watch How You Go," a parting-of-the-ways song about unconditional love which Chaplin sings with aching vulnerability. It's a sad, beauty of a song, but don't get too teary-eyed yet, because we still haven't talked about "On the Road." Like "Disconnected," it's also a track that could easily become another hit single for KEANE. "On the Road" exudes attention-grabbing joie de vivre; its fun, infectious chorus: "When the world's laying you low / Why don't you let me carry your load?" will be doing somersaults in your head before you know it.
The new CD closes out with the subdued "Sea Fog" (I keep singing it "Sea foam," but I'll get it right sooner or later), sung almost like a hymnal. Like "Watch How You Go," it showcases clear, rich vocals against the backdrop of a simple piano. On the band's website, Rice-Oxley tells how the song was inspired by "fogs that come rolling in off the English Channel down where I live." While not a loud rocker-of-a-song, it could become your favorite track. There's a bit of ambiguity and mystery to it…a particularly nice touch on which to close out.
Today, band members of this hugely successful enterprise consist of: Tom Chaplin (lead vocals, organ, piano, acoustic guitar), Tim Rice-Oxley (piano, lead vocals, synthesizers, electric and bass guitar), Richard Hughes (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Jesse Quin (bass and electric guitar, synthesizers, percussion, backing vocals).
Any faults, criticisms, minor quibbles to be found? Not really, though to quote Colbert, "a wag o' the finger" at the band's website. It's a little circuitous and needs simpler navigation, particularly to make it easier for fans to locate all of the new tracks in one place.
On the other hand, a "tip of the hat" and all manner of respect for polishing off yet a fourth CD that's laden with superior songwriting and rich melodies. It's a "must have" for the serious music collector leaving only one thing left to do: see them live.
KEANE's world tour just got to the states this month! They'll be playing in Nashville, Denver and Los Angeles, among other stops. Alas, no Oregon dates on the map just yet (a Seattle performance is scheduled for September 1).
Just to be bold, KEANE, may we suggest Eugene's Hult Center for the Performing Arts? With it's #2,400 capacity, it's a smaller venue than you're used to, but it's beautiful and classy inside, and has great acoustics. From Eugene, the band could then roll right up to Portland. We can always dream.