To recap the Keane story so far: in 2004 three precocious middle-class boys stormed the charts with bland anthemic radio-friendly rock that used no guitars. Over the next six years, they then went on to experience the kind of growth that George Osborne dreams of. This culminated in the Night Train EP which not only contained guitars but managed the improbable feat of mixing in rap in a non-embarrassing way. Artistically, things were looking good. And when they announced with this year's follow up, the consensus was that their main problem would simply be the lingering issue of brand image.
However, disappointingly, Strangeland actually takes things right back to square one. The band, in fact, claim it’s like “a 3D return” to the sound of their debut. But 3D tends to be glossy but unrewarding, and songs like "Silenced by the Night" sound as if they could have been written by their accountant. That being said, Tom Chaplin’s cherubic vocals, perched over these spacious arrangements do have a certain sweeping quality and won't disappoint fans of Hopes and Fears. In fact, from a “glass half-full” point of view you could argue that Strangeland's expansive keyboard sound harks back to the heyday of Eighties stadium rock. The problem is that there just isn't enough emotion you can believe in. And that means that about half the tracks come over a bit Snow Patrol-lite; which is pretty flimsy indeed.
There are redeeming moments, however. In particular, four songs are pretty endearing.“Sovereign Light Café” and “Day Will Come” share the kind of shameless infectiousness that Coldplay have built their career on. And then there’s a nice change of mood on “Black Rain” where Dan Grech’s production combines with Chaplin’s voice to create an unlikely echo of Radiohead. But the highlight is the jangly “On the Road” which sounds like it could have been transported from mid-period Simple Minds. It’s just a shame then that so much of the rest of the record is as wet as an English summer.