By Gilbert Garcia
Like Ben Folds Five, the British trio Keane eschews guitars in favor of a piano-bass-drums format. But the two bands have little else in common.
Folds' band was perpetually smart-alecky and spare, a product of the irreverent Amerindie underground. By comparison, Keane spares nothing in its attempt to make big, sweeping, orchestral pop that breaks the bounds of irony and unabashedly shoots for redemption. Its touchstones are British romantic brooders like Badfinger's Pete Ham and Radiohead's Thom Yorke.
Keane credits all its material to the entire group, so it's hard to pin down the source of its majestic melodies, but vocalist Tom Chaplin is clearly the group's greatest asset. Chaplin's angelic tenor has a built-in grandeur about it, an all-encompassing ache that rarely turns overbearing.
Over the course of this fine debut album, the lush sameness of the production starts to wear thin, and the group occasionally slips into a blandness reminiscent of Tears for Fears (one of their admitted influences). But Keane's best work feels risky because it refuses to hide behind emotional detachment or clever wordplay. These days, it occasionally requires guts to be wimpy. •