Keane's fourth album, Strangeland, is a welcome return to their roots. Their last, Perfect Symmetry, relied too heavily on synthesized blips and horns. It cuffed you about the ears instead of inviting you in. It was a pop album that grabbed your hand and tried to make you dance. But Keane's introspective lyrics and clear, bright melodies aren't suited to the dance floor. They are much better left alone.
In the trailer for Strangeland, the band said it was the hardest of all their albums to make. It was only when one member's wife texted him to ask how it was going that he realized they were done. They had finally rolled the rock uphill. That perseverance paid off: Strangeland is enticing straight out of the speakers. "Fearful child have faith in brighter days/stay home 'til the darkness fades away." No fake horns blaring this time.
The first standout track is "Sovereign Light Cafe." It has an almost addictive rhythm as it winds up and down, setting the scene of a summer night by the ocean. Wistful, with an air of faded glory. If "Sovereign Light Cafe" was an instant hook, "The Starting Line" sneaks up behind you. It is delicately constructed but powerful. The song, like the lyrics, pulls you to your feet.
These are strange times we live in. The recession is global, but its effects are unevenly felt. Some people's lives fall apart while others keep rolling. It's a bit like a hurricane, smashing and sparing houses on either side of the street. And then someone says that the economy is recovering. There are "green shoots" and there is no inflation. In the middle of which there is not much sense to be found. Enter Strangeland, in some ways no less confused that the rest of us, but with its feet firmly on the ground.