I have been a Keane fan ever since 2003, when the first songs from "Hopes and Fears" dominated my discman playlist in my late teens. I now listen to early songs like "Everybody's Changing" and "Somewhere only we know", and feel the nostalgic pull back to my naive era.
Nostalgia is at the heart of Keane's 4th studio album, "Strangeland", and it is certainly a return to the classic Keane ambiance. They've swapped the electronic experimentation of "Perfect Symmetry" with melodic piano pop-rock, emotional ballards, and soaring, driving anthems. They do a really good job of it as well. Certainly for an old-timer fan like myself, a return to form is something I never expected, but something I am very grateful for.
"You are Young" and "Silenced By the Night" begin the journey on the road, and are both driving, energetic anthems which will lift your mood. "Strangeland" is quite a paradoxical title for a record which is largely happy and upbeat.
"Disconnected" is an album highlight, with Tom Chaplin showing his vocal versatility by singing in quite a low register at first. Bizarrely the melody is redolent in my ears of "I'm an Urban Spaceman" by the Bonzo Dog Band, but that is great, because it means the tune is both dark and playful at the same time.
3 tracks in, and they all pass the hummable test. You can hum the melody to yourself on a whim. That is Tim Rice-Oxley's composing triumph. He is the master of melody in today's musical world.
"The Starting Line" and "Watch How You Go" are two wonderful ballads, which are destined for sing-along-crowds at T in the Park or V festival later this year. The band have admitted to keeping the production minimal on tracks like these, which I think is a bonus, as they remind you of tracks from "Under the Iron Sea", with the slightly purer, simpler sound. The piano is back, and this signature instrument sweetly compliments Tom's voice.
"Black Rain" takes Keane into new territory, with its meandering chords, and dreamy harmonies. It is the Untitled #1 2012, but part of me feels it perhaps could have kept going, or had a bit more of a driving baseline, especially with Jesse Quin now making a four-piece complete.
My favourite song is definitely the catchy "Sovereign Light Café", which will surely make a Bexhill landmark famous for generations now. Never mind if you haven't been to Bexhill-on-Sea. The lyrics about going down "to the rides on East Parade" and "to the bandstand on the pier" are universal enough to appeal to anyone who can remember sunny childhood holidays to the seaside, and all the feelings of the past memories like that evoke. Yet it is a personal enough song that it shows Keane really care about their journey, and this allows them to put a lot of heart into their music.
"Sea Fog" continues the habit Keane have of creating a corker of a ballad for a finale. Just like "Bedshaped" and "Love is the End", this song melts simplicity with bittersweet emotion, and the payoff makes for a satisfying and varied album.
If there is anything lacking from this album, it's that the undulating melancholy present on the first two albums is somewhat lacking. With the exception of tracks like "Sea Fog", the rest of the album is certainly melodious, energetic and memorable, but there are far too many major chords, and few too minor ones. This sounds like a trivial complaint. Keane are certainly in a more secure and happier time in their lives: they are all now married, so I guess it's understandable their music will be more uplifting. But 9 years ago, there was an undercurrent to their songs, that slight feeling of unease which gave their music more depth I feel. But this is still by far the best album since "Under the Iron Sea", so I can definitely recommend it to old and new Keane fans everywhere!