Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Album Review: Keane - Strangeland

Keane - Strangeland

After a four year absence, the world's most famous piano recital band are back with their fourth studio album, Strangeland. Despite the time that's lapsed since 2008's Perfect Symmetry, Keane seem to remain as popular as ever, with Strangeland becoming their fifth consecutive number one album (the Night Train EP also hit #1) - a record only bettered by the Beatles.

So, is it any good? Well, the answer will rather depend on whether you're a fan of the quartet (guitarist Jesse Quin is now an official member of the band) or not. Eschewing the experimentation and 80's inspired electronica of Perfect Symmetry in favour of piao-led, radio-friendly pop, some critics have accused the band of 'scurrying back to their comfort zone'. And, there's no doubt that Strangeland is the album that millions of Keane fans were expecting after the global success of Hopes and Fears.

I'm less sure that Strangeland is as backwards a step than some believe. To me, it sounds like the band have learned over the last eight years how to make brilliant, melodic pop records and that Strangeland takes everything they've learnt and applies it to their unique sound last heard on Hopes and Fears. Watch How You Go takes over where We Might As Well Be Strangers left off, Day Will Come sounds like it was recorded at the Bend and Break sessions and the lovely Sea Fog closes the album in the mellow way that Bedshaped ends Hopes and Fears. And, with it's driving piano and catchy chorus, Disconnected is the natural successor to Somewhere Only We Know.

Featuring songs about the band's Sussex roots, the Times called Strangeland 'the album that Bruce Springsteen would have made if he was from Bexhill-on-Sea and not New Jersey'. Nowhere is this more true than on second single Sovereign Light Cafe - a perfect piece of Keane pop music which is destined to become an absolute favourite.

If you are looking for something less Keane-y then the deluxe version of the album features the unusual track The Boys and, oddly, the title track of the album itself.

I've been a huge Keane fan since day one and so, to me, they have never sounded better than this. Strangeland is effectively Hopes and Fears 2, albeit more mature, better produced and with a better selection of songs. Not a bad achievement.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Album Review: Marina and the Diamonds - Electra Heart

Marina and the Diamonds - Electra Heart

After the top five success of Marian Diamandis' debut album The Family Jewels, the 26 year old returns with her follow-up album Electra Heart, a character Diamandis has created.

Apparently, 'Electra Heart is the antithesis of everything that I stand for. And the point of introducing her and building a whole concept around her is that she stands for the corrupt side of American ideology, and basically that’s the corruption of yourself. My worst fear—that’s anyone’s worst fear—is losing myself and becoming a vacuous person. And that happens a lot when you’re very ambitious.'


Now, I was quite a fan of The Family Jewels. It's quirky sound and interesting songwriting grew on me the more I listed to it, and tracks like Shampain, Hollywood and I Am Not a Robot are great indie pop records. As for Electra Heart - well, I'm not sure what to make of it at all.

It's certainly a lurch to a poppier sound with opening track Bubblegum Bitch being co-written with Rick Nowels - a main I have had the pleasure of interviewing thanks to the fact he wrote Belinda Carlisle's late 80s hits Heaven Is A Place on Earth and Circle In The Sand. There are also collaborations here with Greg Kurstin (who's worked with the likes of Lily Allen, Little Boots, Sia, Kelly Clarkson and Ke$ha) and Steve Angello of the Swedish House Mafia.

I think Electra Heart starts off reasonably well, and then trails off into a sea of indifferent tunes which very much merge into one another. Alexis Petridis hit the nail on the head when he said 'there's clearly an interesting pop star somewhere in there' but I don't think this album is a forward step. It's actually made Marina less quirky and less original and while it may sell by the bucketload, it's simply not as interesting as The Family Jewels. At times she sounds like a second rate Lady GaGa; at others like David Guetta's latest vocalist. And on Homewrecker she seems to have tried to recreate the Pet Shop Boys' Left To My Own Devices but ends up sounding more like Flight of the Conchords doing Inner City Pressure. A major disappointment.