Keane - Under the Iron Sea
Release Date: June 20, 2006
Record Label: Interscope Records
If there is one thing British rock is good at nowadays, it is churning out and refreshing bands with great gimmicks. Oasis has its feuding fraternals, Coldplay has the sensitive socio-political leanings of a now-celebrity frontman, Babyshambles has a raving drug addict for a lead singer, and Keane has eschewed any guitars in the drafting of their roster (gasp!). As simplistic a conclusion this seems in written form, for whatever reason, this novelty has catapulted Keane to an unlikely level of fame in today's music world.
Pointing this out is not to detract from the band, as Hopes and Fears was a silently becoming record that genuinely had a particular unassuming beauty to it. Tracks like "Somewhere Only We Know" proved that piano bands sans guitar can still indeed bring the rock, while the fragile "She Has No Time" revealed the pensive, emotional sap more in parallel with what our expectations dictated a band like this should sound like. Nevertheless, Keane is back, and with Under the Iron Sea, they stand up to an unlikely level of withstanding celebrity and sadly enough, falter in the process.
From the brooding electronic ebbing of "Atlantic" yielding to the sunshine-from-behind-the-clouds sweetness later in the track, it is certainly evident that Keane is trying to do the old "branching out" routine. Hell, they even toss some warbling, blaring, distorted guitar-like synth effects on "Is It Any Wonder" (cheap ploy for a single, anyone?), but purists, calm yourselves. This is strictly a one-shot deal, thankfully, since the end result sounds as awkward and foreign to the band as baseball was to Michael Jordan. The lesson? Stick to your game.
From that point on, though, Keane obediently falls back to walk the line we all expect them to, with bouncy, jangly, piano-driven tunes that both hide behind and battle with Tom Chaplin's cherubic belt. "Leaving So Soon" takes a frustratingly long time to build up, but when it hits its stride on the supermassive, soaring hook, it is incredibly simple to see the appeal in a band like Keane. Likewise, "Frog Prince" is a shimmering, gorgeous sonic assault that packs a seemingly infinite amount of layers into a finite songspace.
However, for the rest of Under the Iron Sea, we see Keane slickly but clumsily trying to regain a share of the quiet majesty they attained with Hopes and Fears, but the pressure of this mission is obviously crippling to both band and label alike. In the quest to make an album so universally enjoyable, the record becomes so squeaky-cleaned up and overproduced that there ends up being a soulless repetitiveness about the whole venture that is really disconcerting. A longstanding benefit of piano-rock has always been the organic intimacy of the experience, but with Keane's latest, it is all gumdrops and sugar cookies, and that ends up alienating the listener. Regardless, Keane is irrefutably talented - Chaplin especially. There is plenty here to toe-tap along to - parents will throw cocktail parties to a Keane backdrop, sensitive teenage types will get laid to it, and the casual listener will download it and gander for a week or so. However, for the more discerning listener, they will find it hard to identify with a record as standoffish as Under the Iron Sea. In the end, it just hurts watching Keane so desperately try to outgrow itself.
I actually think Under The Iron Sea is better than Hopes and Fears. Hamburg song is a classic and one their best. Atlantic is a pretty cool and moody song. Is It Any Wonder is the best single I've heard this year. The Frog Prince is great as well. I thought at lease it would rank a 8/10.
oh come on, the artwork and perhaps the instrumentals deserved a bit higher score.
And there isn't a guitar in In Any Wonder?, it's electric piano hooked up to vintage guitar effects pedals. So I can see where the confusion came from.
I gave the artwork a decent score because I did not want to make a huge disagree between my rating and the aggregate rating, but yeah it is cool. As for the instrumentals, they are way too repetitve for my tastes. All of the songs run into the next.
And yes, you are right about the guitars. Sorry about the error - I will fix it.
Snowed Under is one of my favorite songs of the last five years, but that's not on either album even if a lyric is the title of their first. I thought Hopes and Fears was a nice record and enjoyed the darkness of this one a little more. I agree that at least the instrumentals and artwork deserved a better score than you gave them Steve, but thanks for the review. :) I would have bumped everything about .5 higher, so we're basically on the same track overall anyways. This is indeed one of those records that has better staying power than replayability. Funny thing that is.