If it does anything aside from promise to ‘shift units’ and fill festival fields with friendship-braceleted students, the Brit band’s fifth album underlines an already indisputable fact – that it’s entirely possible to be soppier than a saturated sponge and yet remain unmoved by their music. Keane are without a doubt highly accomplished songwriters with an ear for a propulsive piano coda, a sharp guitar hook and a rousing chorus, but fans of the subtle and intriguingly suggestive they are not. Neither are they probers of painfully true, existential and emotional depths – unless you judge card provider Hallmark to be the master of overwhelmingly heartfelt expression. In which case, the nine-times platinum status (that’s 2.7 million copies sold) of Keane’s 2004 debut LP suggests you’re not alone.
Keane’s lyrical concerns here (change and constancy, friendship, self-discovery) fail to make an impact because the words float in a sugary dilution of Coldplay (with whom the band are creatively twinned in the same way as peas are partnered in a pod), ersatz latter-day Radiohead, 10CC and… Chris de Burgh (blame vocalist Tom Chaplin).
The self-aware appropriation of ’80s pop that was 2008’s Perfect Symmetry is long gone and – aside from the glitchy, Thom Yorke-aping ‘Black Rain’ – they’ve reverted to vapid and ‘yearning’ soft-rock type. ‘Sovereign Light Café’ is a truly sickly singalong soaked in nostalgia, while ‘The Starting Line’ is so cheesy it reads like a challenge to both Take That and Dairy UK. Since Strangeland (if only) lacks soul, sensuality and swing, we fail to see its point.