Keane - Hopes And Fears
At first listen to Hopes And Fears, it appears too easy to dismiss Keane. Here is a band so desperate to appear heartfelt; so desperate to harness the target audience of conflicted students seeking solace from weekly chart pap. Initial nods towards the band will see them thrown towards the Coldplay market, and based on the previous singles Somewhere Only We Know and Everybody's Changing you could argue that Keane are deliberately trying to appoint themselves as Coldplay's natural successors to the throne of the new musical scene.
In short, Keane are nothing like Coldplay when you think about it. Yes, their songs are soaring, and lead singer Tom Chaplin has a strong voice in a similar manner to Chris Martin, but that, it could be argued, is where the comparisons end. What makes them stand apart from the rest of the indie-scene is the lack of guitars in Keane's makeup. Here is a three-piece band relying on a piano, drums and sampled effects alone. Whereas Coldplay thrive on becoming the stadium-band of the twenty-first century, Keane seem content to churn out powerful, piano-driven ballads. There are no hard edges to the sound of Keane; their production is polished and at times far more pop than alternative. Whereas Coldplay were always willing to give us a song as pounding as A Whisper for every pained ballad like Trouble, Keane are happy to provide an album full of The Scientist variations and leave it at that.
Somehow though, Hopes And Fears isn't as blandly derivative as you might expect. The first four songs on the album, which include the two recently released singles, are formulaic piano-ballads ripe for high chart placings and yet unable to generate any praise for innovation. You'd be forgiven for giving up on the album after listening to these opening few numbers, because Keane play it safe by placing all of their chart fodder right at the start of Hopes And Fears, and these all sound as if they have been constructed using the Keane-by-numbers songbook created on the release date of Somewhere Only We Know. Maybe this is because the sounds on display are limited - there is nothing new to be done with the limited instrumentation on offer. Sounding venomous with a piano is almost impossible to pull off. Andy Green's production gives these songs such an overbearingly-hollow centre that it lacks any organic origin; if you were told that the backing tape to Chaplin's vocals were all constructed on a computer in an afternoon you'd believe it.
So, here we have another band to dismiss despite the massive hype, until you let the rest of the album win you over and then realise that maybe there is a good band lying underneath the commercial-leanings of Keane's surface offerings. For a start, when listening to Your Eyes Open, you notice that the bass effect has been promoted to equal billing with the piano, which helps generate a slight level of interest. She Has No Time follows strongly with a stark, intense introduction that you wish had opened Hopes And Fears. It's so eighties in its aesthetic quality that it could sound like a natural follow-up to Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight. Finally, Keane are delivering on their promise. Chaplin's vocals punch their way over the angelic swirls of musical ambience, and deliver a ballad actually worthy of note for a change.
Can't Stop Now comes and goes quickly and sadly reverts to the formulaic Keane panderings, allowing the more memorable Sunshine to slowly creep its way into your mind almost unnoticed with its evocative, hauntingly-slow delivery. This Is The Last Time is probably the best mainstream Keane single on the album, but they really should stick to slower-tempo songs as it will generate more interest among the musical connoisseurs who have heard all of this before in better attempts. It's ironic that the best song on Hopes And Fears is simply titled Untitled I, with its sharp, at-the-fore drum rhythms and startling chorus of "The wind wouldn't blow me home to lie in your heart of hearts" which even borders on Kid A Radiohead in a more leniant light. Bedshaped is a decent, uplifting closer to the album, providing a fine vehicle to showcase Chaplin's talents, combined with some interesting production work that still manages to shimmer with too much sheen.
Hopes And Fears is a fairly indifferent album occasionally threatening with greatness and often bordering on mediocrity. The fans of Keane might hate being compared to Coldplay, and yet factor-to-factor Coldplay would win the battle every time even if the bands are very dissimilar upon closer inspection. If Keane can resist the lure of the chart and hone skills demonstrated in songs such as Sunshine and Untitled I, then they may redeem themselves by their second album. If they haven't by then, we won't be worrying, because we'll be too busy caught up in whoever’s turn it is to be the next big thing anyway.