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Music

Sometimes we need a good cry

And Brit-pop's Keane is more than up to the task with its treacly love songs.

By SEAN DALY
Published June 20, 2006


 
Audio: Is It Any Wonder?
Keane's Web site

If there were ever a steel-cage slapfight involving the swoony boys of Brit-pop, the guys in Keane would be the first ones to bleed.

The trio from Battle, England - of all places - are cuddlers not fighters, and they make fellow heartsleevers Coldplay and Travis and Doves (and so on) look like head-knocking soccer hooligans.

Sure, Brit-pop is awash in cerebral touchy-feelers, but at least most of the guy groups have jangly guitars in their songs. Keane, whose 2004 smash debut Hopes and Fears featured ubiquitous hit Somewhere Only We Know, builds its gauzy, gushy anthems with not much more than a piano, bass and drums. Toss in a harp, and Keane could get a steady gig playing the meet-and-greet at the Pearly Gates.

Okay, maybe that's being a little snarky. After all, I kind of like Keane, especially on their new album, Under the Iron Sea, released today. They're so shamelessly earnest and up front, the lack of cynicism is somewhat refreshing. And just look at those groovy liner notes, a blatant artistic nod to the Technicolor murals in It's a Small World.

Plus a lot of great Brit-pop bands have been betraying their true melodic talents and playing mind games with themselves and their fans. Once a smart, beautiful outfit, Radiohead is now a head-tripping unlistenable mess. Coldplay is leaning that way, too.

Not so with Keane. Songwriter-pianist Tim Rice-Oxley is a pop populist, and has a consistent knack for writing big, glorious hooks and related sonic uplift, which ruddy-cheeked lead singer Tom Chaplin sells well with his crescendo-ready falsetto. As far as drummer Richard Hughes is concerned, well, let's just say he has one of the easier jobs in rock: Thump, thump, thump (wait for swirly keyboard solo) thump, thump, thump.

Does it all get to be too much? Sure. Keane's gauzy, cinematic songs are usually infused with goofy childlike wonder ("It's hard to know where I am/Maybe it's a puzzle I don't understand") and tooth-aching sweet-nothings ("I hope all my days will be lit by your face/I hope all the years will hold tight our promises").

But just to keep you from dozing (or running) off, they show occasional flashes of sex appeal. The 2004 song Bedshaped, their flat-out best track (and a nice iTunes pickup, by the way), smoldered with heartache. As far as sexy new tunes are concerned, Try Again is a piano-pounded mea culpa with a curious New Wave keyboard finale. And the uptempo Leaving So Soon? is a voyeuristic peek at a fractured affair, with Chaplin showing a dark side: "A slap in the face, in the face for you now, just might do now."If you're looking for key differences between Albums No. 1 and No. 2, you could say that Keane reveals some relative aggression on Under the Iron Sea. Fine first single Is it Any Wonder? sure sounds guitar-driven at first, a wah-wah air-siren effect that gives way to Chaplin wondering why the British military is engaging in prolonged warfare ("Is it any wonder that I feel betrayed?"). And Put It Behind You is built on a stuttering digi-doodle that sounds downright tough. Well, you know, for them.

If you're looking for an air-guitar workout, Keane's not for you. And if you're a budding lyricist, well, there's nothing but bad habits here. But if you're a lonely-heart who likes soothing, sparkling synthscapes and pretty poet boys waxing thinly about love and loss, boy do I have a crew for you. If you're looking for a reason to reach for the Kleenex, there's no better Brit-poppers than Keane. Cry on, lads.

Sean Daly can be reached at (727) 893-8467 or sdaly@sptimes.com His blog is at www.sptimes.com/blogs/popmusic.

CD REVIEW: Keane, Under the Iron Sea Interscope

GRADE: B

 

[Last modified June 20, 2006, 09:28:00]


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