Keane - Under the iron Sea

Tim Miller 12/06/2006

Rating: 3/5

I don't think even Keane's own record company could have dreamt up the level of success Hopes and Fears, their debut album, came to reach. Twelve heartfelt, melodic gems of an inspired piano and vocals combination saw Keane become the success story of 2004, and naturally their follow up has been hotly anticipated.

Atlantic kicks things off, aptly named as it unfolds like a slowly shifting moonlit ocean. Where Bedshaped left off on the previous album, the wistful vocals and despairing harmonies singing “I don't wanna be old and feel afraid” are accompanied by a lush string arrangement and the mood is set for the album: an altogether more mature and subdued approach.

It is hard to see why, therefore, the lighter Is It Any Wonder? was the single to precede their second LP. A fairly uptempo track with an 80s synth sound, the chorus doesn't particularly grab, and is rather forgettable. Conversely, next song Nothing In My Way is this album's Somewhere Only We Know, a midpaced number with bouncy piano chords leading into a forlorn chorus, ready and waiting to permeate the chart listeners' consciousness.

The emphasis on Under The Iron Sea on creating whole soundscapes rather than melody driven piano-pop means that Keane sell themselves short at times. Hamburg Song sees four minutes of lighters-to-the-sky balladry without ever making a mark, while Put It Behind You and Try Again also fall short of impressing; the absence of a distinctive piano melody or riff fails to hold the attention beyond the song's span. When Keane slow it down, though, on Bad Dream, its yearning strings and poised lyrics “I guess I'm not the fighting kind” reward their new focus on atmosphere and mood.

Instrumental The Iron Sea fades into Crystal Ball, a catchy poppy chorus with sure-fire single potential, while Broken Toy, in a faux-jazz style, really hits home. The chorus matches the epic poignancy of Bedshaped, embellished by the clever bass work and chords, and is possibly the understated high point of the album.

If you didn't like Keane before, you're not going to like them now either. Attacking their unique style with renewed vigour at times, while creating a restless and uneasy mood at others, Under the Iron Sea undoubtedly shows Keane's maturity. More attention has been paid to a fuller production, and they retain their lightweight pop sound, only more resounding in its expansive revamping. Where Hopes and Fears soared with a simple, almost naïve hope, this album sees some of those early fears now come to pass. Their world has darkened, and so has their music, and being under the iron sea clearly isn't the happiest of places to be. But, from time to time, it will be well worth a visit.