Review Summary: The experimental new sound on the hard second album definitely works to some extent for the piano pop/rock indie trio. Although not as strong as their debut, "Hopes & Fears" it still shows Keane is going in the right direction.
Under The Iron Sea by Keane
Keane has always been a fascinating band for me, no one seems to know what genre to place them in and almost everybody got an opinion about them, either they’re brilliant or they’re awful. Is it because they got a falsetto-singing front-man who looks like he’s in the ninth grade" Or the lack of guitars" I do not know, but at least I’m going to try to explain my opinions about their newest work, “Under The Iron Sea”, released on the 12th of June on the historical indie label Island.
Line-up for this album is as follows:
Tom Chaplin – Vocals, Piano
Tim Rice-Oxley – Piano, Vocals
Richard Hughes - Percussion
While Keane’s debut, “Hopes and Fears” was kind of light, soft, acoustic sounding and easy listened to then “Under The Iron Sea” is the opposite and this is noticed very early. In fact in the intro for the first song, “Atlantic”. A dark sounding piano opens up and is followed by drums beating and some string arrangement. It has a very atmospheric sound, which I think an album such as this should have. Sadly, the lyrics and Chaplin’s singing isn’t top notch, resulting only in a decent song. After this follows the first single and the only song on the album with guitar sounding effects, “Is It Any Wonder"”. It is very rough sounding and is by far Keane’s most rocking track up to this date. Tom Chaplin’s singing as well as Hughes’ drumming works really well with this new approach and overall it’s one of the strongest tracks on this album. Third single, “Nothing In My Way” is a lot calmer but still got a quick pace. Although a good song, it feels somewhat repetive after a few listens.
The middle part of the record is the weakest link on this album, songs like “A Bad Dream”, “Hamburg Song” and “Put It Behind You” are mostly just repeating bad choruses and some occasional good verses. The only song worth mentioning is “Leaving So Soon” which although starts bad with “ahhh-ahh’s” turns out to be a pretty good tune and a favourite of mine. Chaplin gets a chance to really prove his worth on this track and for the first time gets to use his famous falsetto-singing which he handles exceptionally well. The instrumental “The Iron Sea” is a nice addition to the album and the dark sound really can be heard here. It also works as the opener for their live shows. Following is “Crystal Ball”, second single and clearly the strongest one of the record. It’s upbeat and stands out from the original “Keane”-sound. It got some difficult lyrics which can be heard from Tom’s singing but overall he makes a good job. Next is the piano-ballad “Try Again” which takes a few listens to get into but once you do it’s a good slow emotional song. Very nice instrumental parts and Chaplin’s vocals are flawless. Ending the album is two different songs, “Broken Toy” and “The Frog Prince”. The first one mentioned got sort of a jazzy feeling around it which makes it rather interesting, great vocals and great instrumentals.
The ending song named “The Frog Prince” written in 2004 is said to be written about a conversation Tim and Tom had during a drunken state, talking about someone in another band. They felt this person was a very talented songwriter and being very intelligent but now had turned into an arrogant rock star. The names speculated about was, to name a few: Noel Gallagher, Alex Turner, James Blunt, Morrisey and Chris Martin. NME later wrote an article about the subject, claiming this person to be Johnny Borrell of Razorlight. This is said to have been confirmed by Tim Rice-Oxley in a Keane newsletter. Personally, I think this is the strongest track on the record and the real gem. The song is written sort of like a fairytale (as the name suggests) and it’s very well written. The instruments are all splendid and Chaplin’s singing is the best on the record so far, a great way to end an album.
Overall, it’s a solid album but not nearly as good as their debut “Hopes and Fears”. The change of sound was interesting and made them produce some really good songs and some mediocre ones. While “Hopes and Fears” was more even and alike-sounding the tracks from “Under The Iron Sea” varies much more in sound, that being good or bad I’ll leave for you to decide.
Is It Any Wonder"
The Frog Prince