On this side of the pond, Keane made a noticeable splash with their 2004 debut Hopes and Fears, especially with singles like “Somewhere Only We Know” and “Bedshaped,” but these cats from Coldplay country - both literally (Great Britain) and, you know, literally (they’re like musical first cousins) - are never going to make real waves if Under the Iron Sea is any indication of the direction in which they intend to grow. Not that their piano-based panoramic pop isn’t as fun as it was the first time around. Point is: There’s more to life than sounding like whiny Chris Martin clones. Then again, maybe this is what Martin would sound like if Gwyneth left him?
This time around, Keane pretty much tries to come across bigger and better by adding things like guitars, louder choruses, and symphonic embellishments, but, by attempting to expand their sound, they only really start to sound like they’re auditioning to become U2’s next big arena-sized openers. While the strings add something to tracks like “A Bad Dream,” they also stand out like a bad costume at a Halloween party. People are looking, just not necessarily for the reason you were hoping.
In other words, maybe it’s just better to not expect or hope for more than a few catchy, albeit familiar tracks from Keane. “Is It Any Wonder” certainly fills that bill, with its pumped-up sonic balls, and “Hamburg Song,” with its supporting pipe-organ, is a touching lament that revels in its modesty. “Atlantic” is another slow-churner that makes keyboard-driven soft rock actually seem cool, and even the instrumental title track, despite its pomposity, works on some level. Still, it’s going to take more than this to make anyone bother with Under the Iron Sea, when Hopes and Fears provides the same pleasures without sounding tired.
- Cole Haddon