Like the choirboy who discovered rock music and started wearing a hoody, Keane are keen to shed theirnice boy image and up their Trump Card cool rating from a one to a 10. But wait – won’t their earlierfop-pop exploits allow the movers and shakers to dismiss them as saccharine Susans forevermore? Well,probably, yes; but that’s not really the point, is it?
The point is that, for a band who could quite easily peddle head-bobbing, radio-friendly ditties and rake it in forthe rest of their careers, Keane have approached second album syndrome with a bold and admirabledemeanor: out go the bedroom poster anthems (for the most part, anyway), in comes a stirring cinematicformula (comparitively speaking, anyway).
Recent single Is It Any Wonder? (the backbone of which surprised even long-term Keane fans) is by nomeans a fluke. It is, in fact, a fair reflection of the tracks offered by Under The IronSea: more credible, more believable, a soundtrack to more complex moments than sunny day sing-alongsor emo-rific moping.
It would appear that Tim, Tom and Richard have spent some time at the U2 School of Squillion-SellingRecords, their final project sounding more expansive and dramatic than Hopes And Fears ever did.Stadium-sized if nothing else, you could switch Tom Chaplin with Bono and nobody would notice.
And the tracks themselves? Well, you have the obligatorily broody opener in Atlantic (sounding like Timand Richard’s attempts to exorcise Tom with Massive Attack-shaped rosary beads – he hangs on for dearlife, if you’re interested); Nothing In My Way sees the classic Keane recipe drawn through milddistortion, the vocal suitably maligned; and Leaving So Soon? is all kick drums before somewhatdisappointingly turning into a Hopes And Fears cast off.
And therein lies the problem: for all their honorable intentions, Keane manage to stretch the shacklesof piano pop rather than break them completely. A wise move, perhaps, should they have one eye on theirburgeoning fan base, but ultimately half-measured in a purely musical sense: the stall they set withAtlantic – and then again with the gloriously dark The Iron Sea (which wouldn’t sound out of place onthe Pet Shop Boys‘ morbid Battleship Potemkin soundtrack) – is never followed through with the sameconviction; the LP’s frequent highpoints are tainted ever so slightly by the wish they’d gone justthat little bit further.
That said, they are able to match Coldplay‘s very best ballads with the mournful Hamburg Song (sure togo down as a huge live favourite), and even show a willingness to tamper with time signatures inBroken Toy. The latter is so good, in fact, that it’s a wonder they didn’t prick up their ears andrun with it a little more: the progressive meander towards the end is an environment altogethertoo infrequently visited by Keane.
I suppose it’s no great surprise in the end, then, that a band so popular (and exposed) following theirdebut album should fiddle with their formula enough to sound fresh, but not so much as to alienate theirfar-reaching following. The few moments of true originality serve to both excite and frustrate,rendering Under The Iron Sea an interesting and yet ultimately flawed offering. Nevertheless, it’s agreat follow-up that could have been so much worse (and a little bit better).