Friday, June 23, 2006

Keane - Under the Iron Sea

Keane's first project - Hopes and Fears - was a well-crafted bit of ear candy that got some significant buzz going in the discussion of a new wave of "brit -poppers" (Starsailor, Travis, et al.) but somehow recently became a guilty pleasure album that was seared into the popular conscience not least when one of its tracks was used in the trailer to Keanu Reeves's and Sandra Bullock's new flick "Lake House". This would be an example of when britpop seems in my impression to no longer "work" - that is when it is no longer ironic - sort of like when the Oasis track "All Around the World" was sold as the new theme song for AT&T. ugh

Keane's new project was released in the US this week. As sophomoric releases go "Under the Iron Sea" seems in my impression to be somewhat of an archetype. It boasts of a kind of pseudo maturity that shows the band's growth in budget, but seems to lack real reflection and resorts too often to cliches and self-involvement in the struggles of newly found success. However, as to not isolate their quickly growing fan base they also include a number of elements that are reminiscent of the first album (with added string section and impressive new sounds from the keys - keeping the guitarless guitar-band vibe going). So in other words - if you liked the first album as I did - chances are while you can criticize the second one you might just enjoy it as well.

The band touted the writing on this album as a little darker than the first - representative of their experiences over the last two years having seen the "darker" side of life living on the road as mega-rock stars who deal with disillusionment with home and relationships. They also propose, however, to tackle broader sorts of "dark" issues like disillusionement with government and feelings of helplessness over not being able to influence decisions that will directly effect this generation's future (this is a self-proclaimed theme from their PR release on the album).

Most haters are going after the album saying things like, "the album is lyrically unimpressive and far too reliant on cliches". On the one hand the criticism is valid - but on the other I think it misses the point of Keane - and the broader britpop project which they may be described as having adopted. It is pop music insofar as the lyrics are broad enough to appeal to emotions that have no well defined carrier - could be about betrayal of a girlfriend or could be about perceived betrayal by Tony Blair and the New Labour Party. Contemp Christian music is master of these generalities by singing to Jesus and someone you are crushing on at the same time. So I don't think criticizing the album oon this front is appropriate without taking to task the broader pop project - can it work? Britpop was the tool to bring a new generation on board to overthrow Thatcherism and replace it with a younger more visionary government (see docu. Live Forever). In the end there was a lot of disappointment when britpop was left just as it had always been a tool - but there was no big idea or "something more" behind it. So this raises interesting questions as to whether it is the best method to pick up when one is criticizing New Labour and others for having abandoned the vision and betrayed their contingency. Is it effective? Could be - I don't know.

Okay well all of this is important to understand the context of the album - but here I have probably not given fair mention to the album itself: A synopsis will have to do.

1) If you hated the first album stay away - this is Keane to the power of 10 - new approaches but same methods.

2) If you loved the first album - you will love this one too probably - they have expanded on the elements of the first album - it is more produced but not to the point that it gets in the way - there is still no guitar - and yes Chaplin's voice does soar oh so high

3) If you are not sure - I still would reccomend Hopes and Fears as an entry point - there is too much polish on this album to make the old school britpop elements come through.

1 comment:

Tim said...

I agree with point #3. I heard Keane on The Tonight Show or some late show and, after about 30 seconds, muted the performance and played "somewhere only we know" on iTunes.

I didn't really get into "Hopes and Fears" but that song managed to stay in my library because it is a really good song.