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Keane | CD review | 2004

 KEANE - Hopes And Fears (Universal/Island - 10/05/04)

Review by Dawn

It's finally here then: probably the most eagerly-anticipated debut album for some years, and certainly the most eagerly-awaited of 2004. The question is, of course, can Hopes and Fears possibly live up to such great expectation?

We at Record Overplayed elected Richard Hughes, Tom Chaplin and Tim Rice-Oxley's October release This Is The Last Time our Single of 2003, declaring it "foolish to believe it possible to do its beauty any sort of justice using words alone". Welcome to the same predicament 12 times over; welcome to the most beautifully-crafted collection of songs that you are likely to hear in 2004.

It was back in February that the Battle trio dramatically appeared on the enemy radar, their glorious Somewhere Only We Know single crashing into the chart at number three - an impressive feat by anyone's standards and (or so the usual suspects in the music press would lead you to believe) doubly so given that it was achieved completely without the aid of guitars. It makes perfect sense, then, that this is the song entrusted with the honour of kicking off Hopes and Fears, its intoxicating blend of stirring piano, strings and subtle percussion setting the impressive precedent for Keane's debut offering.

Live favourite Bend and Break continues in a similarly upbeat fashion and gives the first glimpse of the band's assured use of synthesisers to complement their distinctive vocals/piano/drums combination. This skill is demonstrated further on latest single Everybody's Changing - where such electronic sounds sit perfectly alongside Rice-Oxley's majestic, sweeping piano and Chaplin's gentlest vocals yet - and on Sunshine, where Chaplin's voice evokes thoughts of Neil Tennant's enchantingly fey vocals. The song wouldn't be too out of place on the Pet Shop Boys' Actually LP as a neat bridge between the slightly quirky electronica and honest lyrics of Heart and the atmospheric synths of King's Cross. Elsewhere, the simplistic lyrical beauty and charmingly discordant piano of the previously unheard On a Day Like Today is Keane at their tear-inducing best, while there has never been a song so obviously fitting to close an album as the soaring, wistful epic that is Bedshaped.

It's testament to Keane's exquisite songwriting ability that even though the three singles here are of such a high standard (the already epic arrangements of the aforementioned This Is The Last Time made still more powerful here by some additional synth sounds and wonderfully resonating drums), the remaining songs are more than capable of standing their ground alongside them; the haunting She Has No Time is a prime example. While Rice-Oxley's keyboard chimes echo those of a toy piano, Hughes adds an eerie rhythm reminiscent of a heartbeat to make a truly spine-tingling, ethereal opening. The heartbeat continues behind Chaplin, his voice at its most breathtakingly crisp and clear yet most heart-breakingly fragile; his urgency matched in the chorus by Rice-Oxley's insistent piano. Mournful electronic sounds pierce the air and Hughes' ghostly percussion shimmers like splashing rain as Chaplin sings possibly the album's most emotive line ("My heart opens up to you...") before the track reaches its spellbinding end.

Rice-Oxley's delicately hand-crafted lyrics are both appealing and intriguing, succeeding in being intelligent yet unpretentious; mysteriously personal yet universal; deceptively deep yet always rooted in a classic pop sensibility which makes them all the more charming. Keane's debut LP is the musical equivalent of walking beneath a gorgeously silent moonlight sky with someone truly special; someone who suddenly makes you realise that there are a million dreams within your grasp if only you're prepared to take a chance and, even if something only lasts for a brief moment, at least the blissful memories are yours to treasure forever.

If, as a stand-alone single, This Is The Last Time was exquisite, the sublime Hopes and Fears comprises a dozen songs of absolute ecstasy.


Many thanks to Richard Hughes and Adam Tudhope. Visit www.keanemusic.com
for more information.

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