Keane - Night Train EP
Record Label: Interscope Records
Release Date: May 18, 2010
The thing about piano rock is that as much as its pleasant, it's also a bit predictable. The Fray's self-titled follow-up was a strong step forward, but it wasn't exactly daring or surprising. Ditto to Jack's Mannequin. Those two aren't alone in the vast and sometimes underwhelming piano rock genre, but they remain some of the leading torchbearers on this continent. Across the pond, the British trio Keane have made quite a splash in their native land, having achieved titanic status on the heels of their first two albums, the 7x platinum Hopes and Fears, and its equally potent follow-up Under the Iron Sea. 2008's Perfect Symmetry was a marked step away from their piano-laden past. Tom Chaplin strapped on a guitar, songwriter/pianist Tim Rice-Oxley added bass to the muslcal landscape and ample amounts of splashy synths dotted the record.
Though it was not as well-received commercially as their prior efforts, the album was an attempt to deviate away from the predictable, plodding rhythms of piano rock. The end result was mild success in America but a wellspring of enthusiasm in their native Britain. In short, Keane were distancing themselves from the genre and the British critics ate it up. Enter 2010's Night Train, an 8-song EP that for all intents and purposes is an LP. Nevermind the format though, the most remarkable thing about Night Train is how incredibly different it is.
For proof of this the band's first single "Stop For a Minute" is a hook-heavy, rousing singalong anchored by handclaps, a twinkling piano and Chaplin's unmistakable big-throated vocals. There's a synth beat and a slew of "oh, oh, oh,"s and it's sun-drenched, memorable and highly infectious. Another home run for a band that seems to do very little wrong. Sure it might be a bit too Top 40, and a bit too liberal on the pop gloss, but it's hard to hate a song as infectious as this.. Somali-Canadian rapper K'Naan jumps in at the 2:50 marks and flows for about 40 seconds. It's a bit weird to hear rap in a Keane song, but hey, the band is four albums in, why not fuck around a little?
There's plenty of messing around here. Their cover of Yellow Magich Orchestra's "Ishin Denshin (You've Got To Help Yourself," has a disco vibe and a definite nod to 1970s pop. A vocal interlude by Japanese funk emcee Tigarah adds a bit more luster to the song, but the entire thing feels a bit puzzling and weird. What were they going for here? Honestly, it's anybody's guess. Repetitive, alarming and slightly dystopian, "Ishin Deshin," is Keane at their riskiest and also their most vulnerable. Nothing about the entire thing feels natural or focused, and thankfully it's the album's only hiccup.
K'Naan returns on another disco sendup, "Looking Back," which draws on a cadre of triumphant horns. K'Naan once again inserts his rhyming and his vocals marry well with the blatant rhythm of the drum machine, making for something that sounds tailor-made for radio. While it's a definite step forward from "Ishin Deshin," it's still something that takes getting used to. To put it simply, if Chaplin wasn't singing these songs, there would be ample reason to dismiss them. Thankfully, he's too powerful a vocalist and regardless of how much they dip and swell, the songs are still worthy of a modicum of adoration.
For those that prefer Keane in their safe piano-rock bubble, there's plenty to like here. "Clear Skies," is rooted in a gentle acoustic backdrop and the painstaking admission, "I've never seen such high hopes, such tired eyes, and I wish that I could be everything you want." For all his vocal triumphs to date, few are as towering and as intoxicating as this. Sounding a bit like Bono on the verses, he segues into a chorus that's nothing short of pop perfection. Similarly, album closer "My Shadow," is chilly, ethereal and indubitably stark. Despite the gauzy and gossamer leanings, there's something comforting about Chaplin's vocals, most assuredly when he sings, "In every speck of dust, in every universe, when you feel most alone, you will not be alone. Just shine a light on me."
Having already presented their daring new side and their well-worn safe side, the trio also chases down the synth-inspired direction of Perfect Symmetry. Opening song "Back in Time," is heavy on the synths and draws on the percussive skeleton to do much of the talking. Anchored by the big reedy chorus, "I've got time to kill, I'm not living for the moment anymore," the performance is both a nod to Chaplin's widely publicized troubles with substance abuse and an affirmation of the band's newfound confidence. In short, it's a striking opening statement for a band that many have doubted would last this long. Building on "Back in Time," is "Your Love," which after a pedestrian opening minute, finds a way to crawl into the psyche and allows the exercise to be something worth coming back to.
That final sentiment is what indeed makes Night Train so compelling. Sure the band took a few chances and probably alienated some of their most ardent fans, but record after record of piano-based rock is not challenging. In fact, it's downright boring. Fully cognizant of this, Chaplin, Rice-Oxley and drummer Richard Hughes, chased down something different while still remaining true to their former records. Not only does it work, it provides a valuable lesson for bands that are far too afraid of taking risks. With Night Train, Keane has widened their sonic palette and have indeed paved a bright and limitless future. Having sold 10 million albums to date, there's little reason to think they won't reach 20 or 30 million before it's all said and done.
It's good to see a band evolve, exploring soundscapes far from what made amazing the start, it shows that they can write a cathy hit and being great musicians at the same time. Night Train is appropriately titled, as it's better for a night drive than for a sunday morning feeling and Keane is more pop than ever.
But, for me,
Hopes & Fears >>>>>> Night Train
Really? Bad...? I thought it was really good and had a cool 80's vibe..also you have to give them credit for stepping out of the Coldplay shadow and trying something different.
I'm not saying it was bad because of the change, I applaud them for that. It just wasn't for me. There wasn't really anything that stood out or gripped me like their other releases,I can see why other people would like it but it was sort of dull for my tastes. I still like them as a band though.
I still fucking love Hopes & Fears, though not quite as much as I used to. I liked Under the Iron Sea alright, and enjoyed about half of Perfect Symmetry, so I'll check this out, but I still wish they'd do another album like their first one.
This site rates everything so high. If every album gets a score between 80 and 90 how can you tell what's worth listening to. The only time this site is critical on anything is when it's so obviously terrible (neon crunkcore whatever) that it wouldn't matter what review they gave it.