Strangeland, the new studio release by British alternative band Keane, is a bit puzzling as far as album titles go. On the one hand, it seems a bit ironic, because the band has effectively returned to the familiar sonic territory of Under the Iron Sea; on the other hand, on their way back to familiar territory, it seems the band missed an exit along the way and found themselves lost. So the title is both ironic and appropriate at the same time.
Let me explain.
This sixteen-track record (which imho is wayyy too long for what this album is) brings back to the forefront the piano/keyboard-heavy sound that first put Keane on the map. It is lyrical, anthemic, well-mixed, and easy on the ears overall. You’d think that kind of thing would make the critics happy, but in fact reviews of this record have been very mixed so far. Common criticisms include accusations that the album is formulaic and lacking in substance.
After a few minutes of listening to Strangeland, I figured out the problem: the album is incorrectly classified. Keane is supposed to be an alternative band, but this is a pop album. In fact, it isn’t until the middle of the track list (starting with track 6, “On the Road”) that this record even starts to sound remotely like alt-rock—and even then, the pop influences are obvious. Taken together, the whole record gives the impression of a late-80’s U2 album set to pop arrangements. That’s not going to fly well with alternative music reviewers—of course they’re going to give it a “meh.”
And that, friends, is where the title is strangely appropriate. In leaning back toward their pop/rock influences, Keane has leaned too far and wound up in a whole other genre—a “strange land.”
Now, if you take the record as a pop album, it actually comes off a lot better (other than being too long to keep listeners’ attention). I gotta tell you, I love the opening track, “You Are Young”; I love the rhythmic/melodic combination and the keyboard pads. It’s just not alt-rock; it’s pop. If I were a die-hard alt-rock fan, I’d have hated it.
So there you have it. Strangeland is close enough to the sound of Under the Iron Sea to please long-time Keane fans, and might even draw some people in from the pop crowd. But those people looking for more of the “alternative” side of Keane are likely to be disappointed by this offering. It’s a strange irony, but Keane is apparently both found and lost at the same time.
ALBUM RATING: 2.5 Stars (out of five)