Keane - Under The Iron Sea
Review by Jack Foley
KEANE are back and they’re angry. Having been touched by the current state of the world – following their involvement in Live 8 and Make Poverty History – they feel like they need to say something.
Hence, Under The Iron Sea, the band’s keenly-anticipated sophomore effort, opts for a darker tone – albeit one that builds on the strong songwriting sensibilities that made Hopes & Fears such a resounding success.
Explains Tom Chaplin: “In the songs we created a kind of sinister fairytale world gone wrong, a feeling of confusion and numbness represented by a dark place under an impenetrable iron sea.”
This new approach is evident from the outset on the album’s epic opening track Atlantic, a haunting effort that finds Chaplin’s choirboy vocals at their most aching.
The song has already been released as a video download, following Keane’s collaboration with Trainspotting writer, Irvine Walsh, who was asked to direct the video.
It’s a striking beginning – stark, slightly downbeat (‘I don’t want to be old and sleep alone, an empty house is not a home’) and certainly poignant.
Current single Is It Any Wonder? livens things up considerably, making the most of Tim Rice-Oxley’s outstanding ability on the keyboards – in this case, the CP70 electric piano has been channelled into a plethora of effects pedals, thereby warping the conventional sound and almost making it sound like a guitar.
Yet the anger is still there in the form of lyrics such as “is it any wonder that I feel betrayed?” – a rallying call for a generation that Keane feels has become disillusioned with the decisions made on their behalf by politicians.
Not that the remainder of the album is a relentlessly political beast, or a downbeat reflection on life’s troubles.
Keane still know how to wrap some intelligent lyrics in some beautiful melodies – whether slow and reflective, or upbeat and vibrant.
As such, Under The Iron Sea delivers some outstanding moments that will only further their success and dispel any doubt that they might have trouble following up such a popular debut.
Nothing In My Way is trademark Keane – a piano-driven indie ballad that effortlessly expands their majestic form of epic-indie. The piano hooks are immediately recognisable, deliciously rousing and perfectly complimented by Chaplin’s soaring vocals.
Leaving So Soon? is another feisty offering – a questioning track about changing identities and priorities and the end of a friendship/relationship. Yet it’s delivered in a defiantly rousing style.
It comes in stark contrast to the atmospheric style of A Bad Dream, another record that seeks answers that are never there, from places that don’t exist. Inspired by the work of WB Yeats, it also serves as a telling reflection on the violence in the world: “I wake up, it’s a bad dream, no one on my side, I was fighting, but I just feel too tired to be fighting.”
Likewise, Hamburg Song, a stark, stripped down offering about radiating love that’s as striking as past efforts, Bedshaped and Somewhere Only We Know.
But there isn’t really a dud track on the album, such is Keane’s meticulous approach to getting things right.
Further highlights include the mid-tempo Crystal Ball, an effort born out of so much confusion (‘oh crystal ball, save us all, tell me life is beautiful’) that gives way to a chorus of shimmering beauty.
It is the perfect follow-on from the atmospheric, Eno-inspired The Iron Sea – a two minute plus instrumental that effortlessly conjures images of the dark, distant landscape Keane are trying to create.
Tracks like Try Again and Broken Toy ease the album to its close, built around the same sort of emotive structure that makes the likes of Open Your Eyes on Snow Patrol’s latest so striking.
While final song, The Frog Prince rounds things off in suitably hopeful fashion, being themed around a fairytale offering.
The only downside about Under The Iron Sea is that it has to end – for this wonderfully dark and ambitious journey is an absolute privilege to be part of.
It finds light from dark places, offers hope from despair while remaining angry enough to ask questions. As such, it provides compelling proof that Keane are very much a band with a very bright future ahead of them. Don’t miss out on taking this journey.