On 2008’s Perfect Symmetry, Keane, the U.K. piano tinklers, steered further into the rock-bombast fast lane. Now they’ve veered onto a whole new highway — somewhere between OneRepublic Road and Pet Shop Boys Boulevard. On Night Train their knack for earworm melodies is hard to fault, but between rap breakdowns from K’Naan and the odd techno noodlings, it can be tough to tell who’s at the wheel.
You’ve gotta give it to Keane -- the guys aren’t afraid to reinvent themselves, even if it means decreased record sales. After being typecast as ballad-loving, tender-hearted crooners with their 2004 debut, they spent the following four years dismantling the myth that they were the next Coldplay. Released in 2006, Under the Iron Sea found them skewering Tony Blair’s politics and disguising Tim Rice-Oxley’s keyboard with guitar pedals, while 2008’s Perfect Symmetry highlighted their goofy side, not to mention a love for cheesy ‘80s pop.
Night Train is only eight tracks and that’s all it needs to be. Keane should be commended for kicking the CD-era habit of packing an album with 70-80 minutes of music. The construction of Night Train, the group’s fourth release since Hopes and Fears (2004), heralds back to a bygone era when even the biggest pop artists released albums that challenged the standard five-to-a-side LP format.
After their debut, Hopes and Fears, and its ubiquitous single “Somewhere Only We Know” pigeonholed Keane into the same AOR niche occupied by the likes of Daniel Powter and the Fray, the U.K. trio has spent the better part of six years raging against type. Comparisons to Coldplay have rarely meant to be flattering, and Keane has made a concerted effort to shake those tags.
"Everybody's changing-- and I don't feel the same." I'll unscientifically submit that this is Keane's most quoted lyric, and rightfully so, since one of the prevalent themes of their catalog is trying to find a semblance of comfort and truth in a world evolving at a frightening pace. Likewise, even as critical tastes seem to shift on the fly, Keane remain something of a constant: Even if you've never heard a note of their music, you've almost certainly heard they're lame-- the third-tier Coldplay that will never end up on a Jay-Z album. All of this comes full circle on Night Train, a "forget everything you know about Keane!" EP that's seeking to impress Beyoncé but will probably just generate a chuckle from Solange.
The band’s most startling release yet sees them enjoying their creative freedom. Andy Fyfe 2010 “Everybody’s changing, and I don’t feel the same,” Keane told us back in 2004. Damn right. From Night Train’s ominous opening soundscape House Lights, this stop-gap mini-album marks new territory for the East Sussex trio.