Review Summary: Get off the night train and hop back on the Keane train.
As all too many artists know, the fight to stay relevant is a real bitch. In an era where overnight sensations are at an all-time high, sustained success is fleeting. The internet has long replaced record stores, and the entire way we experience music has been overhauled in favor of possessing everything at your fingertips. Now more than ever, bands are feeling the heat to remind fans that they even exist. That pressure is applied double fold to groups already staving off extinction, such as the English piano rock band Keane. They made a rather flashy entrance with their first two albums, as Hopes & Fears
and Under The Iron Sea
garnered critical acclaim and kept rival artists like Coldplay on their toes. However, the drop-off following their impressive beginning was more than just noticeable - it was painful. Perfect Symmetry
was a major departure in style, abandoning Keane’s moody atmospheres for something peppier and more in the vein of a standard 80’s synth-rock outfit. The reaction was lukewarm at best, and a significant portion of the fan base denounced the changes. To make matters worse, they followed up a two year wait by completing their character reversal via the hip-hop/indie blend of an EP, Night Train
. Now it has been four years since they have released a full-length studio album, and for Keane’s sake, one can only hope that they have regained their footing.
In a way they have. The band has never sounded more like themselves, led by a rejuvenated-sounding Tom Chaplin and a return to smooth, simple piano-rock. ‘You Are Young’ comes as a sigh of relief, kicking Strangeland
off not with a disco feel or rap verse, but with a steady drum beat and elegant pianos. It’s not the catchiest song in the world, but it is enough to convince you that Keane is done embarrassing themselves. With a soothing aura and gradual instrumental progression, it sets up the rest of the album rather fittingly. The two most immediate tracks follow, as ‘Silenced By The Night’ and ‘Disconnected’ both exude radio-accessible qualities and fan favorite potential. The former boasts a chorus so big that it threatens to burst right out of your speakers and come to life, while the latter has the most infectious melody that Keane has written since ‘A Bad Dream.’ There is nothing overtly impressive going on in the instrumental department here (or on the entire album, for that matter), but the chemistry that they were lacking on Perfect Symmetry
and Night Train
is back and more tangible than ever. It is their newfound groove that dictates Strangeland
’s success, resulting in varied song structures, interesting lyrical concepts, and a cohesive feel that grips you from the start and refuses to let go.
Keane’s improvement may be most obvious in the beginning of Strangeland
, but this is still a pretty consistent album across the board. ‘Watch How You Go’ has a Beatles circa Abbey Road
feel to it, gently weaving in and out of graceful pianos, echoing backup hums, and subtle strings. Keane manages to create an intricate fabric here, even though all the barely noticeable moving pieces work together to form something that is simple and astounding at the same time. ‘Black Rain’ might be the most interesting song on Strangeland
, dabbling in electronic backbeats that sound heavy and humid, but act as an experimental catalyst to Keane’s creative side. The song’s electronic foundation is joined by guitars so glimmering in their production that they almost sound like wind chimes, and eventually Chaplin’s falsetto reaches the perfect pitch to elevate ‘Black Rain’ to a level of ambience never achieved before by this band. As a rare moment of deviation, this is a track that stands out amongst the comparatively cookie-cutter song structures. With nary a bad track over its twelve song duration, Strangeland
manages to make it all the way through without once falling flat – which may sound like a pat on the back for the special-ed kid in class, but it’s a start after such a lengthy period of disappointment following 2006’s Under The Iron Sea
At this point you may be thinking that this is a triumphant return for Keane – but I feel inclined to warn you that a lot of work still needs to be done. Yes, Strangeland
marks a revisit to the style that the band excels at, and it certainly has its memorable moments. However, for as hard as it tries to re-center the group’s focus, it doesn’t completely erase the stench left by Night Train
. There also isn’t enough top tier material present to say that Keane has made a complete comeback. The return to their roots is evident, the chemistry is even there, but the songs just aren’t
as intriguing as they used to be. Any long time fan of Keane can recall the way they felt when they heard the earnest and wistful melody to ‘Sunshine’ or the swirling, unpredictable turns of ‘Atlantic.’ Strangeland
feels rather empty by comparison, as it seems that they have lost a little bit of the soul that gave songs like ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ the capability to soar high above the ground. For all of its good intentions, the album simply can’t compete with either of Keane’s first two efforts. To be blunt, the songs just aren’t as good. This band deserves credit for making all the right moves on paper, but it will still take a little more time for them to shake off all the rust.
Keane may be a victim of the internet (i.e. rapid musical consumption) age, but their rapid downfall can mostly be attributed to themselves. After alienating so many people with Perfect Symmetry
and Night Train
, we all knew that their road to recovery wouldn’t be easy. This definitely isn’t the album that will put them back on the same map as Coldplay, OneRepublic, Snow Patrol, and other titans of piano rock, but it is a healthy first step. They have thankfully severed whatever attachment they had to a hip-hop mainstream breakthrough, and they have also left dead decades where they belong: in the past. Strangeland
is a good but not great album that will be enjoyed by fans of classic Keane, who at this point may reluctantly begin to put down their torches and pitchforks. If you have it in your heart to forgive them, this album is the perfect opportunity to get off the night train and hop back on the Keane train.