Keane – The Best of Keane (Island Records)
CD/ LP/ DL
Keane might be on a break, but a collection of their best music leaves us for now with a glowing reminder of their infectiously soothing talents
When Keane first emerged in the early to mid-noughties they threatened at first glance to be something akin to a new version of Ben Folds Five, following as they did the new millennia’s fashion for missing out key instruments from the traditional band line up. As it transpired, Keane’s roots were firmly as an unsigned rock band, self-penning their songs and serving their apprenticeship by playing cover songs in pubs.
On the brink of interest from various labels they found themselves at something of a loss when their original guitarist left. With just keyboards and drums to underpin singer Tom Chaplin’s infectious tenor this would not, as the insurmountable evidence proves, hamper their journey to fame and success.
These days it only takes one listen to the songs from their still capable 2004 debut album Hopes & Fears to fully appreciate the masterful song writing of Tim Rice-Oxley and the sonically consuming production values they achieved from their modest line-up.
This Best Of collection comes in two forms; a long version with a second disc of B-sides and other bits and pieces, or a single disc version with 20 tracks common to both versions (18 favourites plus two brand new tracks). The standard release (reviewed here) is a veritable feast of the band’s infectious, wonderfully dramatic but genuine rock/pop fusions. The first segment pulls in Everybody’s Changing, Somewhere Only We Know, Bend And Break, This Is The Last Time and the utterly marvellous Bedshaped from their debut album. Just feel the sheer quality of the carefully crafted keyboard sounds and floating melodies – this is the sound of the group setting massive benchmarks for themselves on their first commercial release.
My favourite album – Under The Iron Sea – contributes seven tracks (almost vindicating my personal crusade to ensure that their sophomore record is rated as a noughties classic). The compelling source album, built on the purposeful emotions and stadium ambitions of their debut, is delivered in sonic and rousing anthemic bucket loads and mixed tempos. Diverse tracks such as the sanguine Hamburg Song rub shoulders with the relative frolics of Crystal Ball.
The band’s attempted re-invention by their third album (which to the horror of some fans featured guitars), receives only a lacklustre acknowledgement on this collection with just Spiralling and the piano-led title track, Perfect Symmetry, making the cut. The edgy 80s synth pop of Better Than This is sadly missing as is Again & Again with its best-of-qualifying clambering crescendos. Present, however, is My Shadow, omitted from the physical version of the album but issued as a pre-order bonus track via iTunes.
Finally, we hit the end curve of Keane’s career to date and their 2012 number one album -Strangeland – which saw more formula-meddling in the addition of a bass player to the line up. This LP contributes three tracks (all singles) and sees Tim Rice Oxley’s keyboards brought back to the fore. There are also two new tracks (obligatory these days on any greatest hits affair), but if you ignore the flag waving, it doesn’t add too much to the already excellent Keane archive.
One view would be to dispense with this compilation completely and to just buy the first two LPs in their entirety for a combined value that adds up to less than the price of this compilation – their completeness as bona fide albums is truly satisfying. As an introduction to Keane’s catalogue, however, this gives a fair account and is certainly worth celebrating. News of Keane’s demise is also overstated with Tom Chaplin recently confirming that they’re “just having a break from being Keane”. Let’s hope, then, that this album is just a document of their great work to date and that another chapter unfolds in the not too distant future.
You can visit Keane’s official website here and they’re on Facebook and Twitter.
All words by Jon Ashley. You can read more from Jon on LTW here