Keane Ventures into ‘Strangeland’

Courtesy of Island Records

British pop-rock aficionados rejoice. Keane is back in the game with their fourth studio release, “Strangeland.” It may not be mind-blowing, but this release flaunts an interesting smattering of mostly quality tracks. While Keane wandered into the heavily electronic realm with their synth stylings for album number three, they have dialed back the electro hooks for this go-around. The result is a more organic acoustic flair with a bit of an electronic kick, a style which suits this imported band quite nicely.

The album opens with “You Are Young,” which, on the heels of fun.’s similarly named anthem “We Are Young,” comes off as its lackluster, sentimental cousin. Rather than basking in the glow of youthful resilience and good times, this opener celebrates the fact that as a young person, “you are shielded by the hands of love” with vocals that come off far too similar to U2. Disappointment in this track is dredged up primarily by its too-similar title choice and unfortunate timing. Petty as that is, this dull opener puts the album off with a shaky start.

Conditions fail to improve with the next track, “Silenced by the Night,” the album’s lead single. Of all the glittering songs on this album, it’s a bit baffling that producers would choose this one the first release. With overly simple lyrics such as, “If I am the river / You are the ocean. / Got the radio on / Got the wheels in motion,” this track just doesn’t have that lead-single sparkle.

Keane finally makes a serious grab at the listener’s attention with “Disconnected,” which opens with a simply phrased verse that sounds charmingly Beatles-esque. The deep tones of the verses, bolstered by a rolling piano riff, provide brilliant contrast for the chorus, which explodes with lead singer Tom Chaplin’s golden-voiced lament of a dissolving love. The beauty here lies in the way the song swells and recedes throughout. Near the conclusion, the song pulls back to near silence, save for some lightly twinkling percussion accents, before escalating into a swell that makes the heart skip a beat. By the time Chaplin gracefully slides into the crescendo and belts, “I don’t know where to look / Or what to look for / I feel like I just don’t know you anymore” he has listeners wrapped around his finger.

Another standout is “Day Will Come,” which, while overwhelmingly cliche, is deliciously irresistible. Backed with a glittering drum beat, simple guitar and synth hooks, this up-tempo track kicks its way out the gate and never lets up. With this song, Keane nails the soaring mood with such lofty feel-good lyrics as “We dream hard / We shoot high / Sometimes our fingers graze the sky.” Dripping with Chaplin’s graceful vocal runs, this song will have you reaching for the replay button.

While Keane clearly revels in booming, uplifting anthems like “Day Will Come,” as evidenced in “The Starting Line” and “In Your Own Time” to name a few, some of this album’s shining moments come in its quieter ones. For example, in a refreshingly down-tempo turn, “Black Rain” stands in intriguing contrast to Keane’s other work. In place of packed arrangements, a booming chorus and uplifting lyrics is a strikingly spare musical arrangement –– rolling, muffled synth beats with the occasional shading of violin –– haunting falsetto and artfully shadowy lyrics.

The saving grace of this album is “Sea Fog,” which Keane wisely saves for the end. Backed by devastatingly elegant piano chords, the understated vocals here are arrestingly graceful. The lyrics are a heart-rending swell of pain, regret and hope, all reflected in the careful nuances of Chaplin’s beautiful vocal performance. This closer is a stunning package of simple, masterful beauty, which, luckily for this classy British band, is more than enough to offset the album’s earlier hiccups.

Rating: 4/5