There are two British bands that I consider among my favourites from the 2000-era. First is Coldplay, the other is Keane. When I first Keane’s breakout hit “Somewhere I Only We Know” in early 2004, I decided to give their debut album Hopes and Fears a listen. The rest – as any Keane fan today will say – is history. I played the living crap out of that album! In office, I would play it for my co-workers. At home, I would have it on repeat. It was such a good album, from start to finish, I wouldn’t skip any of the tracks. It’s a modern-day classic, no doubt!
Keane followed it up with the brilliant Under the Iron Sea (2006) which I loved just as much. The then three-piece band strayed away from the norm two year later with Perfect Symmetry. I’ll admit, although the album contained some favourites like “You Haven’t Told Me Anything” and “Again and Again,” for the first time I wasn’t hooked on repeat listening to a Keane album. The band continued their experimental journey with 2010′s Night Train, an EP containing songs that were a mix of styles and genres, but still somehow retained the Keane touch.
Looking back, Keane have released an album every two years. Meaning, a new album was only due in 2012.
Prior to the album’s release, it was reported the album would be a “return to form” – a phrase often used to suggest that a band are going back to the sound that made them famous. Which in Keane’s case means Hopes and Fears, and as much as I was keen to hear what the band had produced, I hoped they wouldn’t play safe with the production.
So, let’s judge shall we?
1. “You Are Young” – The opening track is a mid-tempo piano-tinged ode to the young. “You’ve got time, you’ve got to try/and bring some good to this world,” Tom sings during the bridge. A lyric that comforts me over turning 30 this year. So a great start to the album then! – 4/5
2. “Silenced By The Night” – The first official single from Strangeland is pure Keane at their best.
An addictive piano hook, simple melody and a great chorus. A perfect choice to remind listeners of the early years of Keane. – 4/5
3. “Disconnected” – I questioned Keane’s decision to release this song as their second single. I mean it’s not bad, but it’s not that great either. I would have hoped the second single could have been a drastic change of tune, as supposed to more of the same. – 3/5
4. “Watch How You Go” – Things slow down with track four, and the melancholy sets in. – 3/5
5. “Sovereign Light Cafe” – Although Keane have been playing this song on numerous shows for over a year now, hearing this studio version for the first time made me love it even more! Titled after the seaside cafe where Tim & Richard used to hang out, track five is easily one of the best (if not the best) songs on the album. – 5/5
6. “On The Road” – An uptempo number and the kind of song I was hoping Keane would do more of. Absolutely love the chorus and a joyful one to sing-along to. Wish it gets a single release in the lead up to the London Olympics. It’s oh so uplifting! – 5/5
7. “The Starting Line” – And it’s back to melancholy. Not a whole lot to say about this other than it’s yet another good song. – 3.5/5
8. “Black Rain” – Time to close your eyes, sit back and relax. A somber track, mellow and softly sung by Tom Chaplin. Brilliant. – 5/5
9. “Neon River” – I love it when a song takes you from one mood to another. As you listen to the opening, you’re still in the mood “Black Rain” left you in, and when the chorus kicks in, a smile suddenly appears on your face. One of the reasons why I love this band so much. – 4.5/5
10. “Day Will Come” – Ah, the ’80s synth-pop inspired material! Another uptempo record, and one with a piano-mashing chorus. – 4/5
11. “In Your Own Time” – What can I say… I’m lost for words at how good every track on this album is! – 4/5
12. “Sea Fog” – This song is mostly Chaplin and piano. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s one of Keane’s more hauntingly beautiful songs. A befitting closure to Strangeland. – 3.5/5
*13. “Strangeland” – Towards the end of any album, you are entering album-filler territory. But Keane are not any regular pop band, and even at track 13, the quality of the music remains consistent. – 3/5
*14. “Run With Me” – I was hoping for at least one song that sounded like something from Night Train, and this seems the closest to it. It sounds more like a Phil Collins song from the 1980′s, an artist I (and I’m sure the boys) deeply admire. – 3.5/5
*16. “It’s Not True” – I wonder how old this song is, because it reminded me of the material Keane released in the EPs before their studio album debut. No matter, it’s yet another nice song. – 3/5
*17. “Myth” – Found on the UK deluxe edition, this is another song Keane fans have found online before, but it still makes for a worthy addition to Strangeland. – 4/5
*all part of the Deluxe Edition CDs. Thought I’d include them in this review.
At a time when cheap house music-”inspired” pop dominates radio, Keane although true to their formula, still manages to make radio sound fresh again. ‘Kids’ these days may define the band’s music as “old-fashioned” – but fuck ‘em! (The ‘kids’ that is). I never thought Keane could produce another album with the repeat listenability of Hope and Fears, but bloody hell – they’ve done it! Strangeland could very well be my album of the year. I just can’t stop gushing over how good this album is from start to finish – just like how I felt listening to Hope and Fears back in 2004. No matter which edition of the album you get, there’s no song on Strangeland I can label “dull”.
Sure, the band have played it a bit safe with their tried and tested formula, but when the end result is “more of the same – but better!” – I’m not going to complain. So welcome back Keane, and thank you for such wonderful music – again.
My final rating for Keane’s Strangeland: 5 out of 5 (Excellent)