Let’s start by getting one thing straight: Keane is not Radiohead. Lilting yet soaring vocals layered over major piano chords does not a Thom Yorke Jr. make. It’s a critical misstep to compare that band to Keane, which makes pretty, inoffensive melodies that owe more to, say, Sir Elton John. The truth is that pianist Tim Rice-Oxley writes adult-contemporary music produced in a commercially palatable, Coldplay-esque fashion.
There’s a distinct attempt on Under the Iron Sea at bringing Keane’s music to a “darker” (for lack of a better word) place, starting with opener “Atlantic,” which sounds like the work of a poor-man’s Nigel Godrich if he were producing Travis. The songs are structured to transition from cooing, softly delivered melodies in the verse to the boppy, sing-along choruses and the Tom Chaplin-led wailings. This format has worked well for Coldplay, so it’s only natural that Keane should want to follow suit.
But rather than visiting the McU2 territory that X&Y ventured into, the East Sussex trio followed up its 2004 LP, Hopes and Fears, with a less obvious shift of style: Under the Iron Sea is essentially the same album as its predecessor. The result is a more consistent album than X&Y, although it has fewer standout tracks.
Of the slight style progressions on Under the Iron Sea, the extra harmonies on the choruses of “Crystal Ball” and “Nothing in My Way” are welcome additions, adding an ever-so-slight color change to the otherwise ordinary hues Keane chooses to paint with. The other problem is that the group’s lyrics have a lot in common with Sir Paul McCartney’s: they’re made up of obvious, vague and indirect rhymes that could apply to everyone and no one simultaneously.
Fortunately for the band members, their songwriting is clear and concise, which leads them into a few effective melodies. “A Bad Dream,” an album highlight, borrows the drum-machine-fuelled groove of Aqualung’s “Strange and Beautiful” and marries it with All That You Can’t Leave Behind-era U2, complete with the Edge’s trademark delayed guitar sounds. First single “Is It Any Wonder?” leads the pack of upbeat numbers, including the excellent “Put It Behind You,” in which Chaplin unveils his best Yorke impersonation.
The members of Keane write excellent adult-contemporary pop songs that get buried beneath bland Radiohead comparisons and ridiculous lyrical couplets (“Oh, crystal ball, crystal ball/ Save us all/ Tell me life is beautiful/ Mirror, mirror, on the wall”.) Those who enjoy the smooth sounds of inoffensive MOR will find little fault in Keane.
Keane Web site (streaming audio)