on 5 April 2005
Undoubtedly one of the biggest breakthrough acts of 2004, British group Keane exploded onto the UK music scene with their debut album, "Hopes and Fears". This album shot straight to no. 1, returning there on numerous occasions throughout the year, and incredibly it still resides in the UK Top 10 album chart as of 27th March 2005, almost a whole year after its release. That, in my belief, should speak for itself.
Keane are a curious three-piece, comprising singer Tom Chaplin, pianist/keyboard player/bassist Tim Rice-Oxley and drummer Richard Hughes. They released a smattering of singles with various companies before eventually settling with Universal Island following the departure of their guitarist. Rather than seeking out a new one, however, the group simply decided to continue as a three, and in my opinion this is the best move Keane could have made. As a result their sound is totally unique; the piano replaces the customary guitar at the foreground of their tracks, and really gets the listener thinking about what the group's genre of music actually is. My best shot at a classification of Keane's music is classically inspired rock fused with pop, and I was so enthralled by this new style that I eagerly bought this album at Christmas 2004.
Very rarely does an album come along that forces the listener to stop and simply admire the music in its complete form, from the production and instrumentalism to the actual writing of the tracks, but I am delighted to say that "Hopes and Fears" is one such album. It includes twelve superb songs, all of which, although they follow a similar style, somehow bring something different to the album. The opening track, "Somewhere only we know", sets the sound for the remainder of the album; a bright, mid-tempo number with energetic piano instrumentals and heartfelt vocals from Chaplin. This was an excellent first choice of single for Keane, bettered only by the epic "Everybody's changing" (nominated for "Best British Single" at the 2004 BRIT Awards), which established itself as a classic virtually days after its release in May. Other singles lifted from this album are "This is the last time", arguably the most heartfelt of the whole collection, and the beautiful "Bedshaped", relating to a man's longing to find peace with a loved one and accompanied by a light-hearted but somewhat disturbing video. Unusually for a single, "Bedshaped" is positioned at the end of the album, but I feel that this is a fantastic finale as the keyboard and drumkit instrumental close to the end of the song seems to showcase Rice-Oxley and Hughes really letting rip on their instruments, as though they agree with every word Chaplin is singing and are playing accordingly.
Every remaining track on "Hopes and Fears" is worthy of release as a single; so amazing is the quality of Keane's music, ranging from fantastic uptempo tracks such as "Bend and break", "Your eyes open" and "Can't stop now" to emotional, ballad-inspired soft rock. The latter class is represented by "We might as well be strangers" and "Sunshine", a lovely track painted with soft electric piano instrumentals and, as ever, Chaplin's emotional voice. "She has no time" is also beautiful to listen to, with its positive yet sad melody that perfectly compliments the meaning of the song. Again, the use of the electric piano in numerous stages of the track provides a peaceful, absorbing listening atmosphere.
Aside from "Bedshaped", my personal favourite from this album is "Untitled 1", which another reviewer has honoured as a "five-and-a half-minute masterpiece". I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly with this statement; kicking off with a curious drum rhythm and a mysterious electric piano sequence, gradually building up to a chorus containing haunting vocal overdubs from Chaplin, this track is like nothing I have ever heard before. The only track which I initially considered to be "weak" was "On a day like today", mainly because it is so long and quite repetitive. I now overlook these facts, as the melody is stunning and the piano partnered with similar vocal overdubs to those of "Untitled 1" is very capable of bowling the listener over, particularly in the coda where Chaplin's voice echoes away into the distance and a gust of wind can be heard blowing away the piano instrumental, as well as the listener in my opinion.
As I established in the title of my review, you should definitely believe the hype that surrounds "Hopes and Fears". In fact, don't stop there; buy this fantastic album and completely lose yourself in it as Keane proceed to revolutionise British music. Never has a debut album given me so much listening pleasure.