Piano-rock band Keane finally unleashes its wait-worthy “Strangeland,” the U.K. group’s first full-length release since 2008’s “Perfect Symmetry.”
Keane’s signature shimmer is as alluring as ever, brightened by songwriter/pianist Tim Rice-Oxley’s more optimistic turn at lyrics, an indication he’s becoming more reflective as he moves through his mid-30s. Meanwhile, vocalist Tom Chaplin is an even better fit now than on the somewhat acidic “Perfect Symmetry,” his earnest empathy a perfect match for the open-hearted lyrics.
Uplift starts from the beginning — on soaring opener “You Are Young,” Chaplin’s first line is, “Fearful child, have faith in brighter days.” And though “Strangeland” isn’t a relentless happy-fest, feel-good and feel-better moments are sprinkled throughout, from Chaplin’s offer to, “let me carry your load” on the near-manic song of devotion “On the Road” to the standard-issue encouragement of “In Your Own Time”: “Things are gonna change — it just takes time.”
Other songs are more complex, their messages more complicated and the sonic nuance saturated in emphatic shine. A yearning grows in the arcing strains of “Silenced by the Night” as friends drift toward becoming something more (“I am a river, you are the ocean/Got the radio on, got the wheels in motion”), and Keane puts a brave face on a heavy heart in the airy arrangement of “Watch How You Go” (“I wish that I could be your journey’s end/But you were only passing through”).
The relatively subdued piano-ballad closer “Sea Fog” proves the most touching, however, as resignation sets in and Chaplin declares, “I won’t fight through the rising tide if that’s the way it has to be.”
Producer Dan Grech keeps the sometimes-overreaching band in check with such subtle touches, giving balance to the drama and letting melody and message envelop the listeners and carry them away.
Rating: 4 stars (out of five)
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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