Keane- Hopes and Fears (Interscope)
review by Joe del Tufo

Track Listing

1. Somewhere Only We Know
2. This Is the Last Time
3. Bend and Break
4. We Might as Well Be Strangers
5. Everybody's Changing
6. Your Eyes Open
7. She Has No Time
8. Can't Stop Now
9. Sunshine
10. Bedshaped

After a decade of trying, it was a British band called Coldplay that finally broke through to America. Travis got close, and it was their album The Man Who that actually defined the scene: melancholy shaped into beauty by smooth, lilting vocals, prominent piano, acoustic guitar, and occasional orchestration. The album was an overlooked masterpiece and very much set the stage for Coldplay’s Parachutes. Four years later enter Keane, with the debut Hopes and Fears, an album amazingly devoid of guitar. It features the soaring vocals of Tom Chaplin that rise and drift like a David Gilmour solo, accompanied by Tim Rice-Oxley’s piano work, which really characterizes the band’s sound.

So what makes these guys different than Travis, Coldplay, Starsailor, The Doves and all the other Pretenders To The (Beatles) Throne? First off, Chaplin often sings in a falsetto that none of the others would dare try to pull off. It’s not quite JJ72’s helium-injected falsetto, but then again perhaps that why 99% of you have never heard of JJ72. Chaplin sports an impressive vocal range- he can use his voice as a violin or as a sweeping, powerful weapon. Where The White Stripes went to far as to drop the bass these guys have gone one step further with the total absence of guitar on Hopes and Fears (though truthfully I do detect some bass on the disc). And there’s also their look, basically one of no-frills high school kids. They appears like a band surprised by their talent, and that humility plays well with their songs. And oh yeah, about those songs- I can say with confidence that Keane deliver the catchiest damned songs you will hear in 2004, no doubt.

Hopes and Fears sounds like a greatest hits album. It is stronger and more melodious than any collection of singles you’ll ever compile from Oasis or Blur, to name a few. There are easily six tracks here that have the instant infectiousness and staying power to be singles. Hopes and Fears begins with the opening punch of Somewhere Only We Know, which recalls the best of The Man Who with its sparse vocals and piano buildup. It’s a beautiful and poignant track. This Is The Last Time follows (smartly moved up on the US version, as this track was buried 9 tracks deep on the UK version) and showcases Chaplin’s vocal range. Other highlights include the sublime Bend And Break, perhaps the most captivating track on the disc, the plaintive and introspective We Might As Well Be Strangers, and the toe-tapping Everybody’s Changing. Your Eyes Open is a massive, wickedly beautiful love song. But really every track on Hopes and Fears, has something valid to add to the disc, and is memorable in its own way.

With the soaring emotion of U2, the simplicity and universal appeal of the Beatles, and the compositional bravery of (early) Radiohead, Keane have arrived with massive potential and a debut album as strong as any in recent pop history. I expect these guys will follow Coldplay as The Next Big Thing and six months from now I’ll be thoroughly sick of hearing these songs on every reality show and Mitsubishi commercial out there. But good for them. The real question is, having created this unique canvas for pop songs, will they return with more of the same, or will they do something even more revolutionary- perhaps an album with no choruses?

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