June 22, 2006

Review: Keane – Under The Iron Sea

Keane - Under The Iron SeaEver since they entered the mainstream and their singles got repeated on a seemingly never–ending loop by music channels and radio stations, Keane have been a band that it's not unusual to hate.

True, they're a little bland, with a bit too much public school scruffiness to be all that cool, and deep inside them is a burning desire to have been born as Coldplay. But despite all of this, they manage to penetrate the consciousness of every music–lover in the country and inspire feelings of either hate or reluctant acceptance.

The first thing that you'll notice is that they've suddenly got themselves a guitarist ("but hey, I thought they hated guitars…). Well, as I said, they really want to be Coldplay and had to make some compromises to sound more like them. So they've got a fancy new synth that sounds like a guitar. Personally I think this is ridiculous. I used to think that an electric drum kit did the job as well as an acoustic one. But that's because I was an ass. If you want the sound of a guitar, I say just go and get a bloody guitarist. Only guitar geeks will be able to tell the difference, but that's not exactly the point. Why do something complicated when there's a perfectly simple and traditional alternative. It's a bit like whisking an egg in an electric whisker when a fork does the job just as well without so much washing up.

Anyway.

First single Is It Any Wonder shouts very loudly "WE LIKE GUITARS NOW", and also suggests they've been listening to U2 albums of yore, as the riffs are catchy, if a bit predictable and somewhat familiar. The chorus does all you'd expect a chorus to do, with the exception of providing some form of climax. Instead it ends up sounding like a middle–eight that leads into the next verse. I'm not totally averse to this because the song's best lyrics are in the verse, but this is Keane, and not exactly poetry, so a weak chorus is a bit unforgivable.

Potential next single (and definately the track the BBC should play during the closing titles when England go out of the World Cup to a Messi hat–trick) is A Bad Dream. Hope you're listening BBC Sport. Melodically this is a very simple track, and forms a pretty blank canvas for whatever you put on top. This means it's almost as suitable for a Streets-style rant as it is for Keane's wisping lyrics. It's also possibly the easiest song to work out the chords for... Ever! The song's a reverse of Is It Any Wonder in that the chorus is considerably better than the verse, and there's a clear middle–eight which works pretty well.

Atlantic is a fairly weak start to the album, and perhaps the dullest track on offer too, while Nothing In My Way is an improvement but has Enya–style vocal harmonies. Therefore a bit odd, although it's a catchy tune which has just a tad of the Coldplay in it.

Leaving So Soon has the unfortunate burden of beginning like part of the soundtrack to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the new one), which is hard to get over as the track takes a different and largely unobjectionable turn. Lyrics are depressingly simple, such as:

Now you're here
I bet you're wishing you could disappear

which are almost as bad as some of my GCSE Music compositions. And they were tragic. Having said that, it does possess some of the Keane charm of their first album, and has that annoying knack of implanting itself in your brain.

Put It Behind You departs from the band's safe path to certain radio airplay by weighing in at a hefty 6m33. Sadly there's no good reason for this, except a piss–poor attempt at Muse–like instrumentals at the end. Oh, and a Blackpool–organ sound at the start.

Crystal Ball is quite catchy, but then so is Baa Baa Black Sheep, and the two songs discouragingly have quite a lot in common.

Broken Toy is another six–minutes–plus bloater, with lyrics as endearing as "I guess I'm a toy that is broken" and quite prosaically "I guess I'm a record you're tired of". Cleverer than they look.

Under The Iron Sea will almost certainly do well (it's already at No. 1), but this is in spite of many of the tracks on the album. There's the odd catchy tune (read: 'annoying' once it's released), such as Leaving So Soon and A Bad Dream, but half of the album misfires badly. It's background music, it's suitable for a shop that's looking to close early by driving all of its customers out, and it's got a certain something about it which will inevitably appeal to people who decide on radio playlists over the next twelve months.

By which time the real thing will be back with their fourth album and another implausibly–named baby for Chris Martin. It's too long to wait.


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