My main problem with the British band Keane is the same problem that I have with photographs of autumn landscapes: the prettiness, the infernally unquestionable prettiness of it all. It’s so freaking easy to love what a Keane song sounds like that it almost feels like you’re missing something, like you’re falling for something that somehow isn’t quite real. Like you’ve ridden a fake elevator to the top of a skyscraper and the view from the “observation deck” window isn’t really the actual view, but a projection of the beautiful view you believed you were riding up the “elevator” to see.
It seems so simple to love a Keane song, and yet my relationship status with the band has always been “It’s Complicated.”
That said, in the eight years since the release of their very, very pretty album Hopes and Fears, we’ve seen some of their singles – especially the lovely “Somewhere Only We Know” – become virtual standards for their generation. That song didn’t make the U.S. Top 40. Nevertheless, it’s been performed by American Idol contestants, and it was featured in an episode of Glee last year. I hate to admit that it took seeing a very pretty Darren Criss very prettily serenading a teary-eyed Chris Colfer to convince me there’s more to “Somewhere Only We Know” (and, by extension, Keane) than just the pretty.
Glee Cast/The Warblers – “Somewhere Only We Know” (2011)
I think Keane themselves have entertained a similar, uncomfortable skepticism regarding their music’s prettiness and after their gloriously moody sophomore album Under the Iron Sea, they’ve done a little sonic wilderness-wandering, trying on some newer edgier sounds on their third album Perfect Symmetry and even collaborating with rapper K’Naan for a couple of tracks on a 2010 EP called Night Train, finding only intermittent success in the process.
The band is getting set to release their fourth full-length album in May. The album’s called Strangeland, and if its first single is any indication, it seems Keane are making peace with the pretty. “Silenced by the Night” sounds exactly like something off of Hopes and Fears, with sun-dappled keyboard lines, and a soaring vocal by Thomas Chaplin on the chorus. Even thematically, it feels like a sequel to “Somewhere Only We Know,” with lyrics about a guy finding renewed strength and refuge in a relationship, “’cause baby, I’m not scared of this world when you’re here.”