It always comes back to Keane. Strange return it is but it’s something like coming home after a long time abroad. There’s the elation of the familiar, of the comfortable sensation that comes with picking up cutlery you’re used to, showering under water pressure you can predict, no longer being concerned with the minutiae of the weather because its whims no longer matter that much. But there’s inevitably the come down, too. The realisation that comfortable isn’t always best, that the local newspaper is just that, devastatingly parochial, and that everything you thought you were missing was really a lot of the same stretched out, yawning over time. Just as J has reflected on Tim Rice-Oxley and co’s involvement in his ‘longest ever relationship’ and I turned to look at the Sussex boys after a particularly rocky Christmas party, Keane is dependably heart-rending and somewhat of a guilty pleasure for that very reason. Certainly, it’s nice to come home to Keane and, particularly, to Tom Chaplin’s usually flawless falsetto but at the same time, there remains a nagging feeling listening to the band, a constant paranoia that you’re missing out on something better.
If the critics are to be believed, you’re missing out on a whole lot by listening to Keane. While the band obviously did something right on ‘Hopes and Fears’ which, as the ninth best-selling album of the 21st century in the UK to date, captured the public’s imagination, they also rubbed a lot of critics up the wrong way with what many saw as ‘middle of the road’ meeting Main Street. Pitchfork awarded the album a lowly 2.8 out of 10 and the feedback in other forums, concerned by the propagation of blah that they saw Keane perpetrating, was similarly lacklustre. Still, the album moved serious units and put piano back on the pop map in a way that no other album or artist could (Coldplay’s flirtation with keys definitely ranks up there – interestingly the two bands are both the product of University College London). ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ is a great example of the oxymoronic atmosphere that the band operates in – it is both intensely irritating and intensely likeable at the same time.
The gravity of the whole piece is what gets you at first. Matthew Bellamy and his compadres over at Muse do a good job of hamming it up with pomposity and grandeur across much of their back catalogue but that is essentially the band’s MO, they pedal Freddie Mercury-style extravagance as a day job. When four skinny kids with moppish haircuts, wielding pianos (not even guitars!), attempt the sort of swelling seriousness that Keane do, without any hint of self-awareness regarding irony, the results are bound to offend someone. That said, the lads commit themselves so wholly to the enterprise, which starts out sounding remarkably Robert Frost-ian in its landscape portrayal and only climbs the rungs of mawkishness from then on in, that you can’t help but get swept up in the soaring sentiment of it. We get a moment of respite around 2’20″ as the drums cut out and the chords break down to lighter key work but it’s not even a legitimate breath before all the instrumentation rushes back in and we’re reminded of how weighty the whole affair is. ‘Love-hate’ is certainly the way to term a relationship with Keane’s music but it’s more hate to love than love to hate. ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ is sugary but horribly addictive. Like a warm welcome home.
Keane – ‘Somewhere Only We Know’