Under The Iron Sea

Keane

Interscope, 2006

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/05/2007

Much like Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Keane’s sophomore release almost didn’t see the light of day. Along with the meteoric success of their piano-based rock debut, 2004’s Hopes And Fears, came a divisive inter-band turmoil that fueled the creation of this album, an outpouring of frustration that the banded need to feel alive again instead of deciding to split up instead. Darker and decidedly more mature, Under The Iron Sea once again immediately lit up the UK album charts but was nonetheless almost universally trashed by critics. Except for this one (Editor's note: And one other -- Assistant Editor Benjamin Ray put it as one of his top 10 albums of 2006).

Maybe it’s because playing this album takes me back to the sweltering June it was released. Los Angeles was Keane’s second US tour stop and the majority of the setlist was new and fresh and exciting, coloring all subsequent spins of Under the Iron Sea with the same atmosphere of summer freedom and a swaying audience.

But then again, it’s probably also because whatever their missteps, Keane always manage to sound entirely endearing. Coupling Tom Chaplin’s warm, soaring vocals and the band’s knack for anthemic choruses, even their occasional lapses into mid-tempo monotony are buoyed by gorgeous instrumentation. nbtc__dv_250

Just check out opening track “Atlantic” for a taste of Edgy Keane 2.0, all swirling synths and moody lyrics (“And if I need anything at all, I need a place that’s hidden in the deep where lonely angels sing you to your sleep.”) I know most everyone has dismissed this song for one reason or another, but to me, in the same vein as “Your Eyes Open” on Hopes and Fears, as it finally solidifies the band as more than just palatable pop purveyors.

Of course, that’s not to say Keane has lost the chart-topping charm behind “Somewhere Only We Know.” Lead single “Is It Any Wonder?” bashes Britain’s involvement with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with a stick-in-your-head U2-esque distorted piano riff, while “Nothing In My Way” may bemoan the miseries of marriage but also boasts a driving beat and an infectiously catchy refrain (inspired by Eminem, of all people.)

Following a theme similar to “Is It Any Wonder?,” “A Bad Dream” takes its inspiration from the W.B. Yeats poem “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.” Beginning as a languid dream sequence, the track slowly builds layer upon layer until finally erupting into a vast soundscape as the pilot’s anger overtakes his initial serenity.

Though the band describe Under The Iron Sea as “a sinister fairytale world gone wrong,” the workings of relationships outside the world of Grimm shine through as well. Influenced by Motown, “Put It Behind You” warns against becoming bogged down in regret while “Leaving So Soon” is the most upbeat on the album despite its brash lyrics (“Don’t look back if I’m a weight around your neck ‘cause if you don’t need me, I don’t need you”). Said to be a kiss-off to the press, some fans have nevertheless questioned songwriter and pianist Tim Rice-Oxley’s intentions following news of Chaplin’s intended solo release.

Averting the band’s near implosion and hopefully silencing any claims of coasting on Hopes And Fears’ acclaim, Under The Iron Sea evades the dreaded sophomore slump with a mature grace. Amid an album full of loneliness and despair, the band’s uplifting hope is ultimately what resonates.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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