(Published on Groupee Music Hub, April 2010)
Catching the Night Train with Keane
- Kristi Kates
Keane's 2008 full-length album, Perfect Symmetry, caught many Keane (and, indeed, Brit-rock) fans off-guard from the first few notes of its whimsically-danceable first single, "Spiralling." And the band has continued that brilliant experimental momentum on their new EP, Night Train (out May 10, 2010 on Island Records).
Recorded at a variety of studio locales over the course of the Perfect Symmetry tour, the set presents the trio in fine form, from the always hook-laden, complex songwriting and piano work of Tim Rice-Oxley to the soaring vocals of Tom Chaplin, right down to the anchoring drumbeats of Richard Hughes. Their guest collaborators are no slackers, either; two tracks feature Canadian/Somali rapper K'Naan in a surprising turn as Chaplin's duet partner, while Japanese MC Tigarah shows up as well. Neither are musicians you'd necessarily expect to hear on a Keane album - but it's a credit to the talents all 'round that the songs crafted here both stretch the band's musical skills and retain just enough of that familiar Keane sound.
"Your Love" may be one of the most surprising songs on Night Train, not least because it features the unexpected vocals of one Mr. Rice-Oxley as opposed to Chaplin; it's not a surprise that Rice-Oxley's vocals occasionally echo those of A-Ha singer Morten Harket, of whom the band are reportedly fans, and the song itself has a choppy rhythm loop, a b-i-g chorus, and a smartly hesitant bridge that all shift around to add interest.
The set's first official single, "Stop for a Minute," is where K'Naan first surfaces; while the song itself is reminiscent on one level of classic Keane with its piano-based foundation, K'Naan's switches between singing and rhyming reinforce the song's uplifting message and boost its unison hook, as well.
"Looking Back" and "Ishin Denshin (You've Got to Help Yourself)" are two of the poppier tracks on the set, "Looking Back" featuring South America-meets-Rocky horn work (K'Naan shows up again here with a few rhymes), and "Ishin..." being a cover of the Yellow Magic Orchestra song. Keane's version of the latter includes the aforementioned Tigarah; her contributions are interesting, but not as much of a match as one might hope. (The lack of cohesion between her work and the band perhaps being merely a result of her parts being recorded separately.)
Two of the prettier tracks here are "My Shadow" and "House Lights," the first holding strong to Keane's immense skills for striking balladry (complete with another of Tim's melodic piano parts and hopeful, beautifully-controlled vocals from Tom), and the second being a rare, futuristically-atmospheric Keane instrumental.
Another highlight, "Clear Skies," opens with acoustic guitar and Bowie-esque, unadorned handclaps, stepping gradually upwards and adding in more elements that fuse Brit-pop with various elements from folk to lounge, never going over the top but crafting a deft fusion of layers; and "Back in Time" tracks things back around to the '80s-rock side of Keane, stabbing ahead with spiky synth lines, whispery cymbals, and a slow-burning chorus.
Fans may still be clamoring for a full-length studio set from the Sussex band - and well so, since each of their studio albums has both improved upon the last and expanded the band's signature sound - but this is an exceptional stopgap set that is, no matter how you look at it, a great addition to Keane's discography and an equally great addition to your music collection.
all content © kristi kates