Sunday, January 6, 2013

Not such a "Strange" land really

Keane's 4th full-length "Strangeland" came out in 2012 and has been called a back-to-basics or "safe" album.  So yes, the 80's synth-pop explosions of album #3 "Perfect Symmetry" have been scaled back.  Even so, they took what they practiced on album #3 and used it well - light electronic touches can be heard peeking out from behind the grand piano rock-pop that is their stock-in trade.

Opener "You are young" makes a stately intro with soaring, U2-ballad-esque soaring choruses, soaring sounds, and electric guitar flourishes mixed in ever so carefully - enough to add some texture, but not so much they drown everything else out.  Following this solid open is a lead single "Silenced by the night" which can be corny at times ("If I am a river, you are the ocean," anyone?) yet still manages to set the tone nicely - it dials back the skyscraping grandeur of the first track and lets a simpler kind of ballad breathe - a perfect example of Keane's bread and butter.

The crown jewel of this album comes midway in the effervescent charm of "Sovereign Light Cafe" - even if it sounds lyrically at times like an ode to Cheers ("I'm going where everyone knows my name"), it pulls of the "Goldilocks" hat trick.  It mixes all of the elements Keane uses in perfect measures.  Where maybe one track is too heavy on the soaring atmospherics or pours on the treacle just a bit too heavily, this one lets each piece fit together to form a perfect mix - an uplifting track that makes a perfect bridge leading into the final half of the disc.  Shockingly still, when you think they can't get peppier, "On The Road" comes galloping out of the gates on the very next track - an upbeat ode to friendship and camraderie (common Keane subjects, yes, but as with many other tunes I've spoken about, when done this well that's not a big problem.)

If any song seems like they're dipping their toes into the 80's bubble-pop of album #3 "Perfect Symmetry", then "Neon River" is your choice cut from this disc.  It oozes tinkly space-age sounds both in the background and guiding the melody along.  Not a bad song by any measure, but it feels a little out of place among the rest of the tracks on this disc.  They even throw in a little bit of "Under the iron sea" era Keane with "Black rain" - so there really is something for everyone on this disc.

It is oddly fitting that after an album that is so filled with tracks that show Keane's prowess for synth+organic combos with a strong piano backdrop, that the final track is simple - just a piano and Tom Chaplin's earnest, longing vocals floating gently atop it.  Couldn't have ended it better, really.  A fine listen, and a sign of Keane's staying power in an all-too fickle music world.

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