- Last Updated: 12:21 AM, May 9, 2012
- Posted: 11:34 PM, May 7, 2012
Album of the Week
ON their last two CDs, Keane looked to branch out. The first single from 2008’s “Perfect Symmetry” kicked off with a big, distorted guitar riff, as if meant as a winking retort to critics who had been dismissing the Brit lads as Coldplay Lite and questioning the band’s reliance on piano-driven pop ballads.
The “Night Train” EP from 2010 mixed things up further, bringing in guest singers, deploying samples and even handing over verses to Somali rapper K’naan.
On the group’s fifth album, out today, things could have gone in any direction. Unfortunately, the direction Keane has chosen is backward.
Despite its title, “Strangeland” doesn’t do much to shake up the band’s (admittedly winning) formula. This collection of 12 songs feels closer to Keane’s 2004 debut, “Hopes and Fears,” than any of the more experimental tracks they’ve released since.
Tim Rice-Oxley’s songwriting is as tight as always, singer Tom Chaplin’s voice as angelic. The choruses are soaring, the melodies infectious, the piano driving. Yet there’s a been-there-done-that vibe about the proceedings.
“Strangeland” is frontloaded with the best material, and the opener, “You Are Young,” could take its place alongside “Somewhere Only We Know” as one of Keane’s better songs.
A message to Rice-Oxley’s daughter, the new song has syrupy lyrics including, “Lay down your load, cuz every day it’s gonna grow.” But the catchy melody and slow-building structure climax in a swelling outro, which, as the songwriter recently wrote on the band’s official blog, is one of those “moments you live for as a band” — and as a fan, we might add.
Another standout, “Silenced by the Night,” was written after Rice-Oxley challenged himself to pen 20 songs in just 12 hours.
The rest of the album is rounded out with familiar-sounding, midtempo songs and intimate ballads — all built on piano, save for the down-tempo, electronic “Black Rain,” which borrows from Thom Yorke’s playbook.
Most of these tracks are pleasing enough, and fans of Keane’s previous work will no doubt come away satisfied — just not challenged.
Downloads of the Week
“Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)”
WITH the help of producer Jacknife Lee (U2, R.E.M.), the LA foursome tweaks its straight-ahead, modern-rock radio-friendly sound to add a big dollop of atmosphere. “Bloody Mary,” the first single off “Neck of the Woods,” out today, is a dense soundscape that recalls My Bloody Valentine with its layers of fuzzy guitars and electronic shadings. The rest of the album isn’t nearly as much of a departure, but this track’s a keeper.
“The Marvelous Dream”
A rock opera from Damon Albarn? Sure, why not? If there’s a more versatile artist working today than Albarn, we’ve missed him. The former Blur frontman, who is constantly moving among fascinating side projects, including Gorillaz and his collaboration with Congolese musicians, co-wrote “Dr Dee,” an album of songs based on the life of 16th-century magician John Dee. This first single, “The Marvelous Dream,” is a minimal, mellow track that finds Albarn singing about “god fire” and strumming an acoustic guitar. It’s nice stuff, but it feels like what it is — a two-minute, 23-second fragment of a larger work. It might work better when experienced as a whole and onstage, as it was meant to be.