The band’s most startling release yet sees them enjoying their creative freedom.
Andy Fyfe 2010-04-29
“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. They’ve a rapper in tow for two tracks and a Japanese baile funk MC poppet for another (a cover of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Ishin Denshin), while Your Love features keyboardist/songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley’s first lead vocal. At just 31 minutes Night Train is as brief as it is startling. Well, startling to a Keane fan, but then we were hardly going to be in Sun Ra territory here, were we?
Maybe it’s in the nature of how these tracks were recorded – time snatched at studios around the world while on tour – but there’s less constancy to Night Train than previous albums, even though it takes a lead from the 80s pop of 2008’s Perfect Symmetry. Your Love’s eye-watering keyboards has the band camped in Wang Chung’s foothills, the Bond theme-in-waiting Back in Time and closing My Shadow are as expansive as ever yet stripped of the cloying sentimentality that so often sees Keane made into critical whipping boys, and Looking Back is (ahem) “inspired” by the Rocky theme.
Most startling, however, is the appearance of a rapper on Stop for a Minute and Looking Back. This being Keane it’s the right-on and conscious Canadian protest poet K’Naan rather than anyone actually, you know, dangerous; but to their credit it’s not Chaplin rapping, which could only have led to a Robbie Williams-style cringe-fest.
Over three albums Keane have never quite shaken the impression that they could run out of steam at any moment, amplified by the fragile nature of the school friends’ relationship in light of singer Tom Chaplin’s well-documented substance abuse. As a transitional release, however, Night Train points to an even bigger and brighter future: it mostly sounds like a band happy to enjoy the freedom of chalking up 10 million album sales, and everyone else can take a running jump.