Review Summary: A less than desirable change in direction that will hopefully be remedied by Keane’s next full-length album.
What a difference a few years make. In 2006, Keane released the atmospheric gem, Under the Iron Sea
, which was arguably the best work of the young band's accomplished catalogue. 2008’s follow-up Perfect Symmetry
saw them lose a large portion of their original fan base, as they opted for more of a frivolous 80’s-pop sound. However, the album still had enough redeeming qualities and accessible singles (“The Lovers Are Losing”) to keep the band afloat. Now, Keane releases the EP Night Train
, which features contributions from two R&B musicians and even ventures into hip-hop. While Keane’s versatility has always been a strength, it seems this time they have gone too far off the deep end. Not even Tom Chaplin’s vocals can save Keane from the eclectic mess that is Night Train
Considering the success of Keane’s first two LP’s, Hopes & Fears
and Under the Iron Sea
, their insistence on changing is baffling. Experimentation is often a wonderful thing, provided that the band doesn’t overstep their creative bounds. When Radiohead released OK Computer
in 1997, fans were stunned but ultimately fell in love with its beauty. When Thrice dropped their post-hardcore influences for more of an atmospheric rock sound in Vheissu
, a similar appreciation was developed. The problem with Keane’s evolution is that instead of playing to the band’s strengths (Chaplin’s vocals, synthesized ambiance, piano balladry, etc.) they continuously force the issue with genres they don’t belong in. It started to become apparent with Perfect Symmetry
, and now it is painfully obvious with the release of their new EP.
Ironically, Night Train
kicks things off in a comparatively traditional manner for Keane. The instrumental track “House Lights” is dark and foreboding; an ominous introduction more to the liking of Under the Iron Sea
than anything the band has done recently. It contains a dense sonic environment/aura for a song that comes in at less than a minute and a half, and definitely instills a heavy mood in the listener. Unfortunately, what the first track succeeds to create essentially vanishes for the rest of the album, as Keane once again chooses to dabble in a genre that is, at best, questionably suited for them. Songs such as “Stop for a Minute” and “Looking Back” rely too heavily on Somali hip-hop artist K’naan’s influence and not enough on the classic Keane sound that launched them into success to begin with. The two sounds could have been successfully blended, but instead it just sounds like a rendition of Keane Goes Hip-Hop
, or some other awful variation of the “Punk Goes…” series. All in all, these tracks end up sounding choppy, forced, and unnatural. “Ishin Denshin”, featuring Japanese artist Tigarah, doesn’t fare much better with its techno-sounding beats and Tigarah’s the less-than-helpful vocals. As is the case with most of the songs featuring contributing vocalists, Keane would have been better off doing the job themselves and letting Chaplin take the reigns.
Fortunately, there are still some songs on Night Train
that do just that. “Back in Time” and “Clear Skies”, while still weak against Keane’s standards, manage to at least bring the listener close to the expectations he or she would have from the band. In particular, “Clear Skies” brings experimentation to the table that is actually welcome
, utilizing hand claps and xylophone-like keyboarding that really draws attention to the band’s keen sense of instrumentation. Night Train
’s second to last song, “My Shadow” is easily the most triumphant moment on the entire album. It ties together all of Keane’s strengths, while eliminating the majority of the bad 80’s and hip-hop influence they have accumulated over their latter years. Additionally, it serves to bring the focus back to the true strength of the band, Tom Chaplin’s vocals and lyrics.
As a whole, Night Train
is a very troubled EP. It crosses over into genres that the band struggles to succeed in, then brings in featured artists that somehow seem to make the transition seem even more awkward. There is a silver lining to this EP, however, as it contains just enough moments of “classic Keane” to give one hope that the band can still recover. And that is what Night Train
leaves us with…a less than desirable change in direction that will hopefully be remedied by Keane’s next full-length album.