The Band: Tom Chaplin (Vocals)
Tim Rice-Oxley (Piano)
Richard Hughes (Drums)
Released: Island (2004)
It was right at the start of this year that people really started noticing Keane, after they won an online BBC poll of the most promising new music acts in Britain. Some people, however, had been talking about this band for quite some time before that, after they had been signed by British indie label Fierce Panda
in 2002. This immediately drew some attention from people who study the music industry, as this label was where Idlewild, Supergrass, and, most famously, Coldplay released early singles. This initial good impression was borne out when Keane released Everybody's Changing
as their debut single, which was heralded as "indisputably mighty", and "three and a half minutes of pure pop loveliness" in the British press.
While the air of anticipation around the band was growing though, there was also a certain cynicism creeping into some people's tone when talking about the group. Like Coldplay and Radiohead, all three members of Keane are ex-public schoolboys, who started off making soft rock records and had a "nice" reputation. Although some of this cynicism still remains in the press today, it has largely dissipated on the back of this album, and quite justifiably so.
Before I get onto a review of the album itself, something which I think must be mentioned when discussing Keane are the musical comparisons with British indie bands, in particular with Coldplay. While there are some similarities, there is something very different about Keane, namely that they do not have a guitarist or bassist. They just don't feature in the band. This gives the group an entirely different dimension than most other indie groups, since, by necessity, every song on here is very much centred around the piano. Also, I think the lyrical content on here is in fact stronger than Coldplay's first album, as is Tom Chaplin's voice. In spite of what some critics say, this has clearly been recognised by the public. This album was released on May 10 in the UK, and is still No.6 on the album charts, having barely left the top 10 since.
In addition to majestic love songs, Keane have also already mastered the forlorn relationship ending song, as with We Might As Well Be Strangers
, which has Chaplin's voice really dominating the song, and sounding wonderfully wistful while Rice-Oxley and Hughes providing a very well judged backing. Something that I have never seen mentioned in the press is Richard Hughes's drumming, which seems somewhat unfair. While he is by no means one of the best around, he shows here that he has near-perfect judgement of what sounds right, and where to put in his fills over the music.
She Has No Time
is a contender for the barest, most stripped down song on the album, with Chaplin really proving that he can front a band rather than relying on their support, particularly in the opening where he is basically singing by himself. Having seen the band live, I can also promise you that he's not just a singer that can do it only on the album, but can also really hold his own in front of thousand of people. His vocal range on here is very impressive as well, making a mockery of people who accuse him of being less vocally gifted than other British frontmen. Rice-Oxley even has an incredibly mournful piano bridge, which is heavily synthesized, adding to the lonely, poignant mood. This is the longest song on the album as well, giving it an epic quality.
was what first got the band noticed, and it's not hard to see why. This was the second single released from this album, with Chaplin and Rice-Oxley again working together to create a massive chorus in "I try to make a move just to stay in the game, I try to stay awake and remember my name". Although they're touching on fairly traditional lyrical themes here, they stay away from clichés, and make another very good song. If there's one criticism I have of this, it's that it sounds like it was made for the radio more than some other songs on here, but I guess that's only to be expected given that it was the song that was their first independently released single.
This Is The Last Time
reminds me quite heavily of a song that could be by The Smiths in terms of its overall feel, and the way that it's crafted, although obviously it doesn't have a Johnny Marr guitar hook. Instead though it has some soaring vocals from Chaplin and a warning that "This is the last time I will show my face". It also features another of the best piano hooks on the album, which creates a mini-pop gem, and something that I think may be the next single due to its overall feel. This is the kind of song that you can easily picture absolutely saturating radio playlists all over the country.
Bend And Break
is probably the most straightforwardly rocking song on here, with a powerful intro and some genuinely purposeful drumming. Something that's worth noting is the way that Rice-Oxley incorporates effects into his playing. Sometimes they are barely perceptible, but they definitely add something to the songs in which he uses them, and again, make him stand out from your everyday indie pianist. This also showcases very nicely just how good Keane are at putting together a surprisingly powerful song given that there are only two instruments involved. For most bands this would be daunting, but as the band themselves put it, "We just didn't think we needed a guitarist."
By way of contrast, On A Day Like Today
is the most mournful song on the album in my opinion, and really leaves the listener feeling some of the emotion oozing out of Chaplin's vocals. The piano here also really reminds me of a slightly less violent Politik by Coldplay (sorry, but there had to be a positive comparison of the music somewhere). It's another great anthem in spite of the mournfulness though, largely due to the way that the vocals get partially hidden under the pounding piano chords. This is another clear highlight off the album.
I haven't mentioned any negatives from the album so far, and in truth there aren't any serious ones. One of the things the band often gets criticised far is a lack of variation in their sound. Personally, I think that a large proportion of people who make this point are saying it out of what they expect to hear, rather than what they do actually here. While there isn't anything weird and different really going on during any of the tracks, they are generally of a high enough standard for the listener not to think at any stage that they are similar. The tracklisting helps here as well, as the band combine slower and faster tracks well. There is the occasional low point on the album though, with songs such as Untititled I
, which to me sounds as if it was almost put on as an extra track, when it might have been better off as a B-side. But this isn't a substantial criticism so much as looking for ways that the album could be turned from very good into a great album.
However, for me, the best song on the album is the last. Bedshaped
, the third single, is a truly beautiful song which has an amazing vocal performance. Ranging from a falsetto, to an achingly evocative chorus, Chaplin really makes this song his own. This is one of the songs of the year that I have heard so far, and takes this album onto a whole new level. It's with this song, more than any other, I think, with which they step out of any shadow of bands that they have been compared with, and make quite clear that they are a class act in their own right, and they are here to stay. There is a brilliant, albeit strange bridge as well, where what sounds like a distorted choir give backing vocals before one of the most simple, and yet wonderful keyboard solos comes in again.
This is an album, in short, where Keane show a maturity beyond their years. In terms of songwriting skill, the order in which the tracks should be placed, and, most importantly of all, the actual music itself, they have proven themselves to be the new British band of the year, and have really set down a marker for their next album. Broad comparisons with the likes of Coldplay are inevitable, but wrong. While there are similarities, this is a far more confident debut album, and one that seems set to fill arenas worldwide. Tom Chaplin has a genuine swagger on some songs, and, as I have said, plays the role of frontman very successfully, especially given that he has less backing than most singers. While this isn't an absolutely brilliant album, it is nevertheless worthwhile checking out if you lie the genre. I must confess that I was cynical when I first heard this group, but I can confidently say that I have been won over somewhat, although it has recieved undeserved praise from many critics this year. If you don't like this at first, then give it a few listens, as it is also an album that grows on you.
On A Day Like Today
She Has No Time