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Keane - Perfect Symmetry

Keane, Perfect Symmetry

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

ALL eyes are on Keane as they release their third album, since it’s the first since 2006’s Under The Iron Sea and – most importantly – since lead singer Tom Chaplin’s stint in rehab. Would we be hearing the sound of a changed band?

The answer is no. Perfect Symmetry is very much what we’ve come to expect from Keane. Bright, lively, sometimes emotional, and quite often poignant, it’s an easy listen that’s certain to bolster – and even build – on their popularity.

There are subtle differences – a greater level of irony as opposed to sincerity, as well as more of an ’80s influence that incorporates everyone from James and Queen to David Bowie. But the band famed for playing their music without guitars remain the same and, in their case, it’s not a bad thing. Hell, if Oasis can revert and rely on formula with their latest, Dig Out Your Soul then why not Keane, especially in times of credit crunch? Now is clearly not the time to come over experimental and risk alienating the die-hard followers.

So, what works and what doesn’t? Perfect Symmetry mostly hits the high notes. Opening track and lead single (in download format) Spiralling is a rousing entry point: familiar, brimming with energy, boasting a rousing chorus and a nice mix of piano and synth. It could probably have done without a mid-section “rap” of sorts… but it’s early evidence of Chaplin’s more ironic tone (“did you want to be famous? Did you want to be the president? Did you want to start a war?”).

It’s immediately followed by the forthcoming single The Lovers Are Losing, another effortless crowd-pleaser, that builds towards a really sparkling chorus. Given extra sheen by producer Stuart Price (of Madonna and Les Rhythmes Digitales fame), it’s sure to win over plenty of people to the album.

The Bowie influence is most definitely felt on Better Than This, which contains the sort of blips and electronic whirls that seem borrowed from tracks like Ashes To Ashes. Chaplin’s vocals, meanwhile, drift between “oh oh”‘s, falsetto and an inspirational chorus that suggests “you can do so much better than this”. It’s a sentiment that could apply to everyone – Keane, perhaps (?), politicians, people in general? No matter, it’s the sort of song that’s designed to have you singing along – and it succeeds, handclap beats and all.

You Haven’t Told Me Anything, meanwhile, drops an electronic bassline reminiscent of John Hughes’ Brat Pack movies, and giddily careers towards another appealing chorus. Chaplin claims on the band’s website that they had fun recording the LP, and thus far it shows.

Keane’s trademark sound of pianos and crisp beats is all over title track Perfect Symmetry, which juxtaposes some tragic lyrics with a defiant sense of grandeur (in a way that James perfected in their prime).

The first ballad, of sorts, then arrives with You Don’t See Me, a stripped back, synth-laden effort when Chaplin almost comes over all Freddie Mercury. It’s firm evidence, though, of Keane’s ability to provide a powerful ballad without feeling forced, pretentious or overly sentimental.

Again And Again quickly ups the tempo, though, with some super-charged synths and another rousing chorus that’ll probably be greeted quite rapturously in live form. There are ’80s tendencies running throughout, but they’re kept in check so as not to come over too kitsch.

Playing Along, meanwhile, aspires to mid-tempo epic-nesss (a la Elbow), layering in some gospel-tinged backing vocals to occasionally augment Chaplin’s striking solo effort. It’s a grower.

Pretend That You’re Alone, on the other hand, returns to the James formula of sparkling keyboards and lively beats… albeit with some more irony-laced lyrics such as “we are just the monkeys who fell out of the trees, we are blisters on the Earth” and “love is just our way of looking out for ourselves when we don’t want to live alone”. It may not be the cheeriest of sentiments, but it’s refreshingly candid and cleverly astute (in places).

There’s a threat of something even darker in the opening seconds of Black Burning Heart, but it quickly reverts to Keane formula and is one of the more average songs on the LP, ushering in – as it inevitably does – the poignant, layered final offering Love Is The End, which restores a sense of hope, aspires to slow-building epicness and firmly reminds you that Chaplin and company are one of the few bands writing songs nowadays that can genuinely aspire to Coldplay and Elbow-inspired greatness.

Perfect Symmetry may not take many risks, and IS quite content to rely on formula, but it does it so well, and with such a well-balanced sense of fun and tragedy, that it’s never less than a bloody great listen. It may not go down in their own history as a masterpiece, but at a time when anything can help put a smile back on people’s faces, it’s a reassuring presence to have around.

Download picks: Spiralling, The Lovers Are Losing, Better Than This, Again And Again, You Don’t See Me, Pretend That You’re Alone

Track listing:

  1. Spiralling
  2. The Lovers Are Losing
  3. Better Than This
  4. You Haven’t Told Me Anything
  5. Perfect Symmetry
  6. You Don’t See Me
  7. Again And Again
  8. Playing Along
  9. Pretend That You’re Alone
  10. Black Burning Heart

  1. I think this is a great album and contrary to your review, it does mark a progression for them. The ’80s influence, for instance, and the more poppy, less ballad based focus. This is their best work yet.

    Olli    Oct 17    #
  2. I think the reviewer pretty much nails it. This is no great shakes, but it’ll do nicely – especially after rehab.

    Sam    Oct 21    #
  3. I absolutely love the album – I think they just get better and better. Go for it Tom, your vocals are excellent

    Mandy Schutt    Oct 21    #
  4. The more I listen to it, the better I like it. Well done Boys. Nice melodies and Lyrics.

    Cee Gee Bee    Oct 28    #
  5. Tom Chaplin's Love Is The End is such a tear jerking beautiful song. This guy is so talented and the band so different to others.

    Su Graham    Nov 2    #