Keane is a band that has managed to slide under the radar of both indie and mainstream music culture in America for years now. Unlike their fellow UK pop-rockers Coldplay and Snow Patrol, Keane has never seemed indulgent enough to conform to whatever musical trends have come and gone in the past 10 years. Instead, Keane has always been pretty focused and comfortable with who it is: a piano-led pop band that writes straightforward but infectiously catchy songs. On Strangeland, Keane hasn't changed the formula much—which will be good news to fans and another reason to pass over the band for the naysayers.
Keane's previous full-length album, Perfect Symmetry, is often referred to as a big stylistic change for Keane. The 2010 record found the band experimenting with some new sounds and production choices, including an upbeat new wave '80s pop sound that no doubt won the band some new fans. Even still, I would hesitate to call the album much of a diversion from business as usual for Keane—the simple pop tunes and soaring melodies were still very much the name of the game. In all honesty, I could use those very same descriptors for Strangeland because the album essentially sounds like it could have been the follow-up to Under the Iron Sea, as if Perfect Symmetry just never happened.
Fortunately, the album opens with four tracks that had me really happy to hear Keane "back in their roots." "You Are Young" bounces with a joyous optimism that looks toward the next generation with hope and expectation. Meanwhile, "Disconnected" might be one of the catchiest Keane tracks since "Nothing in My Way" or "Is It Any Wonder?" from Under the Iron Sea. When it comes to crafting a soaring chorus melody that will have you humming under your breath all day, Keane proves it still has it. I found myself enjoying the tracks that focused on Keane's
classic songwriting. The final track, "Sea Foam," has a dark, sinkingbeauty to it, while "Black Rain" has a great Beach House–esque vibe,with a minimalist drum machine and reverb-soaked organ to boot. Songslike these remind me why I liked those first Keane albums to beginwith—which I suppose is the point of this album.
But it's some of the later tracks on Strangeland that really have me disappointed that Keane hasn't found a new direction for its music yet. Keane has been able to get away with its Disney Channel lyrics in the past, but when you've got a melody as undeniably cheesy as the one in "On The Road," lyrics like You've got everything you need to make a start / I had a dream of my own, just walking out of my home / Going I don't know where to sing beneath the stars are beyond cheesy. Furthermore, these faster tracks, which include songs like "Sovereign Light Cafe" and "In Your Own Time," remind me of how truly outdated these guys still are—a band trying to relive its glory days.
Ultimately, Strangeland will end up feeling like something of a mixed bag for everyone besides diehard Keane fans. Frontman Tim Rice-Oxley said in a recent interview that when looking back at Perfect Symmetry, he thinks of it as "a bit self-indulgent." But considering that the band hired a producer for Strangeland who was "a massive Keane fan" and wanted the band to return to "the songwriting of their first two albums," it's safe to say this album is pretty self-indulgent in its own way. This kind of unapologetic attempt to return to its original sound just seems a bit too comfortable and safe to inspire the kind of must-hear album Keane fans were all hoping for.
Luke Larsen is a freelance writer, music connoisseur and iOS game enthusiast hailing from Portland, Ore. His writing has been featured in publications such as Paste Magazine, Prefix, GameChurch, and Christ and Pop Culture. Follow him at @lalarsen11.
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