You’re probably thinking what we’re all thinking: Keane are still around? Indeed, the once wistful-eyed, award-raking synth pop rock boys from East Sussex, now all in their late 30s and 40s, hit the road again with their newest release Cause and Effect after a 7-year break. Stylistically, the album doesn’t mark new territory for the band but combines reliable Keane staples like Tom Chaplin’s emotionally stripped voice, catchy piano chords and radio potential with occasional X-Factor banality and some surprisingly moving gems. Warning to the musical snob: you’re about to read an analysis of new Keane songs. I warned you.
The opening track You’re Not Home tries starting out like a Sigur-Rós song with its volatile, low-key tinkling but soon swells into a more ordered pop-rock bustle that doesn’t quite make enough space for Chaplin’s vocal range. Stupid Things feels like classy Keane material with its bitter-sweet synth pop arrangements and vocal crescendos, but its lyrics of getting lost in the treadmill of unhealthy urban work habits hit a spot. Put the Radio On, a sleek sing-along destined to be – surprise – the song you hear on the radio while stuck in a traffic jam at peak hour, starts on a similarly generic note. But it gives Chaplin a chance to send his transposed call over the hazy, stretched-out melody in the second half that’s so catchy you can’t help enjoying it after a few times.
Some songs cross the awkward border between sounding like a dreamy version of Rice-Oxley’s favourite U2 to sounding like Take That: Love Too Much couples a juiceless drumbeat, limited compositional imagination and some gap-filling ‘whoas’ with tepid one-liners like ‘Nothing can take that away from me’ that we’ve heard some other boyband murmur in the 90s. Similarly, there is something not quite right about how The Way I Feel tries to address toxic masculinity, loneliness and disappointed hopes on a wave of head-bobbing Robbie Williams copycatism. Other midlife crisis ballads like Phases or I’m Not Leaving feel equally stale as the mechanical jumble of piano, drums, electric guitar and half-baked lyrics fail to communicate the genuine sentiment Rice-Oxley probably tried to distil. Just because Chaplin keeps crooning ‘Nothing else is gonna ease that ache inside’ in I Need Your Love over and over, the liner doesn’t become more convincing.
This rant aside, there are a couple of welcome surprises on Cause and Effect that remind you of Keane’s talent for crafting pop-rock gold: Strange Room, based on Rice-Oxley’s experience of surviving a car crash he caused, is an intimate redemption ballad with a crisp winter lullaby feel about becoming alienated with the course one’s life has taken. The stripped-back candour of the passage ‘Officer let me explain / I lost something I love today / Yeah I know what it looks like / a rich kid with a good life’ gets under the skin; the simplicity is genuinely moving. Thread, another redemption song that features an unexpected cello and more experimental piano from Rice-Oxley, is another welcome surprise. While some passages have a twang of self-pity (‘Remember I’m a good man / Just not good enough’), Chaplin’s voice, now less dominant, weaves itself into the band’s background vocals with more sensitivity for a song that basically says, ‘I’m sorry for having been an absolute douchebag’. If that doesn’t strike a chord with you at all, then you probably haven’t spent much time around homo sapiens.
Cause and Effect is out now, via Island Records.