Keane’s Under the Iron Sea is a modern pop masterpiece

On February 22, 2008, The Guardian published a short article titled “Keane must be better than he looks.” To sum up, writer Caroline Sullivan comments on a recent poll that placed Keane’s second record, Under the Iron Seaas the eighth best British album of all time, according to a Q Magazine survey. Sullivan expresses puzzlement over beaten Keane The dark side of the moon and Urban anthems in the top 10; some other notable albums Keane ranks ahead of include Abbey Road, Led Zeppelin IVand Violator. Not only that, but Keane beat his own debut, Hopes and fearswhich had actually sold at the time a good three million units more than sea ​​of ​​iron. In summary, Sullivan half-sarcastically asks a simple question: why?

However, the purpose of this retrospective is not to defend the Q Magazine survey. Amy Winehouse is the ONLY female artist in the entire top 50. Also, the top two spots are held by Oasis, so, there you have it. On the contrary, I write for – 14 years after this survey and 16 years after the release of the disc – to give Under the Iron Sea the retrospective it deserves as a modern pop masterpiece, a star both in the wider genre and in Keane’s catalogue.

The first thing that stands out about this album is its tone. Keane became a surprise British phenom with their debut; while remaining a wonderful album, the muffled vocals and plaintive piano toed the line between tender and silly. In contrast, the anxious, arpeggiating electric piano and muscular industrial drum loop of Under the Iron SeaThe first game of “Atlantic”, immediately means that Keane has reached a milestone. To match the change in mood, Keane lead singer Tom Chaplin changes the coo he used on Hopes and fears for a steelier vocal delivery that feels like he’s singing to reach the back row. Seriousness may not entirely translate with a less talented singer, but Chaplin’s ability is astounding. With cordiality and elasticity, it switches between chest, head and falsetto on hooks custom-designed by the trio – primarily, lead songwriter and pop genius Tim Rice-Oxley – for Chaplin to enjoy. . (Listen to: “Leaving So Soon” and “Crystal Ball.”)

The high-octane vocal performances have heartfelt confessional lyrics on the sleeve. “I look into my eyes, there’s no one there,” Chaplin sings on “Crystal Ball.” On “Is It Any Wonder?” “After all the misery done, is it any wonder that I’m scared? Is it any wonder that I feel betrayed? The lyrics are often strikingly frank, and Chaplin delivers every line as if it were his only chance to do so.This mix of emotional urgency, unmistakable hooks and impassioned tenor vocals is in some ways reminiscent of a genre that was reaching its peak in the same year. sea ​​of ​​iron came out: pop punk. The lyrics of “Leaving So Soon” wouldn’t seem out of place applied to a Warped Tour band: “Don’t look at me now, you don’t know me at all.” But while pop punk whips up a sense of haughty angst, with booming drums and roaring guitars, “Leaving So Soon” elicits a feeling of warmth through its piano progression, meandering between major and minor, and the Chaplin’s delivery, which starts comfortably in the middle of its range before firing up to a surprisingly powerful falsetto for backing vocals. Outrage is replaced by confidence as he sings “I don’t need youuuuuumaking its will to move forward resolute as the chord progression itself resolves. It’s the maturity of performance and songwriting that sets it apart from its radio rock contemporaries without sacrificing the power of cathartic emotive vocals harnessed by both the former and the latter. This is also why sea ​​of ​​iron still a little weird. It’s a breed apart from the Hot Topic emo bands that dominate radio; still, he doesn’t quite sit among the artists Hopes and fears could easily be compared to rosy-eyed artists from the 2000s such as Travis, Snow Patrol and early Coldplay.

On many tracks, Keane is decidedly less sweet this time around. They don’t trade their pianos for guitars, but treat them the same. Throughout this album, synths and electric pianos are polished with distortion and shimmering reverb. They buzz, swirl and bubble around each other. Their melodic lines are placed high in the mix, often sharing equal footing with the vocals. The effect is an almost overwhelming experience that mirrors the anxieties and sorrows expressed in the lyrics. The most obvious example of this has no lyrics at all, the instrumental snap at the center of “The Iron Sea” tracklist. A simple, mournful melody is played over ever-increasing layers of distortion-coated synths. The sounds expand and expand, even bringing a patch of keyboard chorus, until it breaks, echoing over an ominously held bass note and peppered with reverb-washed vocal snippets.

Elsewhere, there’s an unfettered sweetness to be found on the album, a welcome respite from anxiety. Tracks like “Hamburg Song” and “Try Again” feature masterfully written chord progressions and soothing keyboard textures from Rice-Oxley and Chaplin. The sound arrangements of the ballads favor slow constructions which save the fireworks for the end. Slowly, new elements are brought, a majestic rhythm of drummer Richard Hughes, a shimmering synth layer, a change of key towards the relative minor.

The cornerstone, performance-wise, is certainly Chaplin’s voice – which I can’t stress enough is at the top of his game. Those who equate “untrained” vocalists with a more pure or honest expression need look no further than tracks like these to prove otherwise. There’s a feeling evoked on this album that Chaplin’s singing feels relatively unaffected – if there ever could be such a thing – while still being unmistakably him. Throughout the history of popular music, especially rock, a singer’s eccentricities have been placed on par with, if not above, both their technical skills and their skills to complete. a song (tonically, emotionally, what have you). The line between distinction and gimmick is surely blurred, and for better or worse, you end up with generations of people doing great pop rock prints for laughs at office parties. Even Chaplin dipped his toe in the pool from time to time – Hopes and fears had the aforementioned doe-eyed twitter, and sea ​​of ​​ironthe sequel tinged with new wave Perfect symmetry sees Chaplin do a nervous vibrato that looks suspiciously like Brandon Flowers. This album, however, finds him fixated on a simple goal: to sing with all his heart.

And it does, over 50 minutes that capture the feeling of isolation and alienation through pop hook perfection. Under the Iron Sea is layered, deeply felt, direct and incredibly catchy. Q Magazine sounding whatever, it’s an album of distinction, a great album. I’d like to think that Caroline Sullivan took another listen and went along with it. And if you haven’t listened for yourself, it’s more than ever a good time!

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