It's good to be Keane

I should have talked about this three weeks ago when the album was released, but good intentions.... (and so on). Keane's sophomore release, "Under the Iron Sea" is great -- different, but great.

By different, I mean from 2004's "Hopes and Dreams." This CD has a darker, more colorful tone overall and is a bit more ambitious in exploring different sounds. The first track, for instance, starts off with a pleasant little intro before diving head-first into serious drums and a rich, haunting melody in minor chords. Come to think of it, there are more minor chords in the entire album than there were in the first. This also affects the tone, for obvious reasons.

What isn't different, however, is the quality of the music. Keane is still at the top of its game with even more intricate and layered sonic elements. As usual, that "otherworldly" sound permeates every song and lingers long after. After listening to this new one repeatedly, I would still probably opt for the first CD -- but it is a horse race.

Where "Hopes and Dreams" was declarative and reflective, "Under the Iron Sea" is decidedly narrative. It's as much a collection of stories as it is a collection of songs. One thing I always like about CDs -- for no particular reason -- is if when listening to just the first three seconds of every song, no two are the same. This is a tribute, I suppose, to the prolific, perfectionist songwriting of pianist Tim Rice-Oxley.

The second track and first single, "Is It Any Wonder?" has a strong U2 flavor, and it works. Another of my favorites is "A Bad Dream," a song whose sound perfectly captures its meaning (nothing new for Keane). Upbeat "Put it Behind You" runs into an intense instrumental that ties you up in knots just before a resolution in the peppier "Crystal Ball." "Try Again" will break your heart. And just like in the song, you'll want to listen again and again. Like track 1, the last song, "The Frog Prince," lays on the melancholy and tempers it with just enough hopefulness. It's a beautiful ending.

And everything in between -- "Nothing In My Way," "Leaving So Soon," "Hamburg Song," "Broken Toy" -- is not to be missed (can't expound on everything here, for purposes of space and interest).

Besides piano-driven numbers, the one thing that continues to set Keane apart are the gorgeous vocals of Tom Caplin. His voice is one of the best-sounding around -- clear, crisp, vulnerable, emotional, strong -- and he has plenty of opportunity to show off his range on the album.

If you're a die-hard Keane fan, buy "Under the Iron Sea." If you're not a Keane fan (yet), buy "Under the Iron Sea." Once you go Keane, you'll never go back.

1 comment:

Lois E. Lane said...

Wow ... who would have thought two people with such impeccable taste could disagree so much? I know what you're getting at in this comment, because at first listen, I wasn't too keen on Keane. But I now chock that reaction up to expecting "Hopes and Fears Continued," and it not delivering. The new release is a bit of a departure in style, but not in quality. I like the entire sound of their first album better, but it took me months to warm up to the second half of even that CD. I think that's because I fell so quickly for the first four songs that I wouldn't let any others into my heart. But once I also gave them a good listening to, I was glad I did. The vocals on "Under" are just as beautiful and the writing just as thoughtful. And though the overall tone was darker, the undercurrents of longing, sentimentality, vulnerability and emotion reamined intact and sucked me in. Listen to it about five more times, that's all I can say :)