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Music Review

Keane: 'Perfect Symmetry'

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Keane: 'Perfect Symmetry'
Released on Monday, Oct 13 2008

"We don't want to be one of those bands that forever remains the same, churning out the same old stuff," said Tom Chaplin at the Q Awards earlier this week. Changes in musical direction are a notoriously risky business, but for Keane it was a choice between evolving or forever being labelled as dull Coldplay clones. Two successful records into their career, most music fans had firmly fixed views on the Sussex trio: plenty loved them, but many others, led by chief critic Noel Gallagher, would rather have been fed to the sharks than caught listen to them.

Possibly inspired by Chaplin's recovery from drink and drug addiction, Keane's third album wields a sledgehammer at these preconceptions and showcases a creatively adventurous group who've developed a healthy fascination with seventies and eighties pop music. The band's talk of an "avalanche of experimentation" and breaching the "unwritten rules of musical etiquette" were intriguing, snappy soundbites, but few believed the piano-tinkling public schoolboys could actually pull off dance music and go all Pet Shop Boys on us.

Yet anyone who's heard comeback single 'Spiralling', with its infectious "Boooh!" cries and synths that Girls Aloud would murder for, will know that Chaplin and co. have pulled it off. The influence of producer Stuart Price, who's worked with Madonna and Gwen Stefani in the past, runs through the album's core and under his stewardship synth-pop and indie ballads sound like perfect bedfellows.

When the band are in full swing, as on the Bowie-esque 'Better Than This', it's hard to believe you're listening to the same group who swooned their way through earnest tunes like 'Somewhere Only We Know'. While existing fans may lament the shift towards brasher pop stylings, this album only loses its way when Keane slip back into their old bad habits. Closer 'Love Is The End' is a saccharine attempt at a lighters-aloft show-stopper that falls down under the weight of its own seriousness. It's also unlikely that anyone would care if 'Playing Along' and 'You Don't See Me' had been left as B-Sides.

However, these quibbles are soon forgotten whenever Tom Chaplin bursts into another bout of sparky falsetto. Not even Noel Gallagher could hold back a smile at the soaring synth-frenzy of 'Again or Again', while 'You Haven't Told Me Anything' suggests the band have been listening to plenty of Hot Chip in the last 12 months. The jaunty brass of 'Pretend That You're Alone' certainly "ignores the rules of good taste" as the band promised, but as with the bizarre segment of spoken French on 'Black Burning Heart', they get away with because they go in head first. With synth-pop now successfully conquered, it will be interesting to see where the band turn next, but for the time being Keane have triumphed and left their critics floundering.

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