Album: Keane, Perfect Symmetry (Island)
Like Mercury Rev, Keane have clearly been hunting for a new direction to pursue; sadly, on Perfect Symmetry their searches seem to have led them back to possibly the most musically bereft decade of the 20th century, the 1980s.
On the upside, this has facilitated the funkiest performance of their career, "Spiralling" opening the album with an infectious piano, synth and percussion groove behind Tom Chaplin's fretful hand-wringing about the dubious value of celebrity. But the downside involves tracks which also sound like Sparks covering "Ashes to Ashes" ("Better Than This"), New Order's early-1980s indie-disco stylings ("You Haven't Told Me Anything"), and worst of all, the smug, singalong epics with which James frequently assailed festival audiences, as in "Perfect Symmetry" itself. But these routes at least drag Keane through what, for them, are fresh territories; the same cannot be said of "You Don't See Me" and "Again and Again", which follow the hearty piano ballad formula that's stood them in such good stead for the past two albums. In its determination to do something new, I find Perfect Symmetry slightly preferable to its predecessors, although its uncertainties, both lyrical and musical, are likely to disappoint more fans than they are to convert non-believers.
Pick of the Album: 'Spiralling', 'Better Than This', 'Black Burning Heart'