Keane - Strangeland

This album will neither shock nor rewrite opinion.

Label: Island Records

Rating: 6

This is, I think, a fair claim to make; Keane are not viewed as a particularly cool bunch. They are often perceived as the reserve of mums, and from personal experience, as the favourite band of my extremely patriotic home economics teacher; whose insane quest to marry the Keane front man Tom Chaplin culminated in calamity, as she tried to bust her most impressive moves at the band’s show at The National Trusts’ Westonbirt Arboretum. It would be unfair to allow this review to be tarred by the psychological trauma of hearing ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ consistently on repeat whilst being taught to make rock cakes – but being honest, we all know what to expect from ‘Strangeland’. Reeling out the snarky remarks and cutting put-downs - however tempting - seems a little unfair though, because while this album will neither shock nor rewrite opinion, there is no denying ‘Strangeland’ is solid enough. Keane might be more forestry commission than Woodstock, but this album makes no pretense that it is at all rock n’ roll. That really would be embarrassing.

After the shaky foray into guitar on last album ‘Perfect Symmetry’ - as well as Chaplin’s well-documented struggle with drug addiction - the band have had a dodgy few years, and 2012 sees them going back to the emotionally charged sound from ‘Under The Iron Sea’. Belying its title, this album is familiar stuff - not so much a retreat to the comfort zone, but a return to the band’s strengths. “I’m going back to a time when we owned this town,” sings Chaplin on ‘Sovereign Light Café’, and indeed, it’s a massive relief that Keane have dumped the guitars. The constant twinkling, and occasional pounding of the piano is back for good, and is just perhaps a little overbearing at times. The godawful cliché potential of the rhyming couplet also rears it’s ugly head from time to time – notably in the shape of “If I am a river, you are the ocean / Got the radio on, got the wheels in motion,” from single ‘Silenced By The Night’.

If you have a shelf rammed with Animal Collective and tUnE-yArDs, it’s safe to say that ‘Strangeland’ will have a tough time fitting in – and I know that my copy will be re-homed to my Mum’s kitchen, along with Coldplay and James Morrison. Taken at face value though, ‘Strangeland’ isn’t terrible, and doesn’t induce dry-heaving in quite the same way that those chillingly dreadful attempts at synth on ‘Everybody’s Changing’ did. While other songs from Keane’s back catalogue might haunt you forever, most people will be able to tolerate this album. ‘Watch How You Go’ is unashamedly a textbook, half tempo ballad, but it’s also a little bit catchy. Those who are already fans of the band will love it.

There is very little to horrify or upset here, unless of course you have an inbuilt allergy to constant reminiscing and piano balladry. Fans of the band will be delighted with ‘Strangeland’ because it is unmistakably Keane – and that will also be the main reason that many people despise this album. As somebody who feels a great deal of fear and loathing towards pukey melodramatic pop-rock at the best of times, this album is actually palatable, and sending it to the incinerator just because it isn’t particularly fresh or cool seems somewhat childish. For all their tediousness and incessant ‘rocking out’ piano-bashing nonsense, you’ve got to admit, Keane are very good at being Keane.