Album Review: The Best Of Keane: Disc One

Thanks to being able to import this album from South America, I was able to get the two disc version of the Best of Keane. The first disc adds two unreleased tracks to a collection of tracks taken from Keane’s first five albums (one of which was a lengthy EP) [1]. The second disc, which will be reviewed separately, provides the B-sides of the singles for the band, providing more obscure material from Keane to look at that would be largely unavailable to American music buyers, since our singles market is not nearly as strong as most parts of the world (especially the United Kingdom, where Keane is based). That said, the tracks on the album are heavily skewed towards the more successful first two discs, which have twelve of the twenty songs on the first disk between them (5 for the first album and seven for the second). The third album only has two songs, the EP “Night Train” only one, and fifth album “Strangeland” its three singles, followed by the new songs in chronological fashion. First, I will give a track by track review and then look at the album’s coherence as a whole, given that eighteen of the twenty songs are available on other albums.

Everybody’s Changing – The best of album begins with a track about alienation and isolation, which fits the fact that this album is looking at songs in their single release order rather than their album order, giving it a different structure. Nevertheless, the theme of not fitting in certainly fits with the general tone of Keane’s music and it is an appropriate album beginner.

Somewhere Only We Know – A particularly successful single in the United States, I once sang this song as karaoke at a church dance. Again, as this song deals with aging and trying to find the comfort of friends and private spaces in a world where one feels alienated and out of place, it is remarkable just how melancholy Keane has been from the very beginning of their career.

Bend And Break – This song was one of my favorite album tracks from their first album, and it makes an intriguing point here, with its guarded and somewhat cautious optimism about meeting someone (presumably a loved one) on the other side, in the light. If one compares the light of morning with the spotlights of the stage and the light of enlightenment, the connections are intriguing, but it remains one of the most optimistic moments in a decidedly melancholy collection of songs as is present here.

Bedshaped – The mood of cautious optimism from the previous song is undercut by this song, the last song on the “Hopes And Fears” album, a downcast and gloomy ballad about abandonment and ridicule. It is a beautiful song, but an exceedingly sad song, and a reminder that from the beginning Keane was afraid of being left behind, losing friendships and relationships, and feeling as if they did not understand the world that they were a part of.

This Is The Last Time – This song, a moderately successful single from “Hopes And Fears,” is particularly ironic in its placement here. Given that this song occurs about one quarter of the way through the track list, it is clear that the band was not saying these words about dissatisfaction and dishonesty in relationships for the last time. No, there have been a lot more songs about brave but fatalistic efforts to do the best one can in unhappy circumstances to come.

Atlantic – With its brooding and ominous drum machine beats and swirling synths, this is a dark song about loneliness and suffering. It also manages to capture the sense of unhappiness that Keane faced in finding that success on the charts did not make their lives happier or their relationships better, a theme to which Keane has returned to over and over again in the years to come.

Is It Any Wonder? – The second song on the “Under The Iron Sea” album and the second of the seven songs from that album here, this song is uptempo in terms of its driving music, but filled with lyrics that express a world-weary cynicism about the faithless and unhappy world that mocked the honor and reputation of the good and the true. Like other songs, this one is a painful reflection on betrayal and ridicule and anxiety.

Nothing In My Way – This song, which is certainly painfully easily to relate to in its musing on lonely souls, broken relationships, and the feeling that one doesn’t have anything left to say, manages to capture part of the enigma of Keane, a band that clearly enjoys performing music but also appears compelled to sing about their difficulties in life.

Hamburg Song – I’m still not sure why this song has the title it does, but as a downcast piano ballad about the difficulties in friendship and finding light and happiness in one’s life, the song has plenty of company here. Whether it is in the company of its fellow songs on “Under The Iron Sea,” or here, it fits in with frequent concerns that Keane has had from the beginning of their career.

Crystal Ball – Another song where upbeat music belies rather unhappy lyrics, this song reflects upon unclear boundaries, a struggle to belong, and a desire to escape from life’s troubles by disappearing, a theme that the band has returned to over and over again. It is a bit disappointing that the band sought to hear that life is beautiful from a mirror on the wall or a crystal ball, given that neither are good sources of information.

A Bad Dream – Possibly my favorite song from “Under The Iron Sea,” this song is about the way that nightmares prey on one’s peace of mind and sap one’s will to fight for relationships and to live a better life, given the betrayal of false friends and the feeling of abandonment that this song is full of. It is impossible not to empathize with the painful but beautiful expression of those sentiments here.

Try Again – This song, like plenty of others in Keane’s body of work, is a slow and melancholy piano ballad about fatalistically struggling to to persist in the face of nightmares and difficulties, in the face of fickle circumstances and the desire to cease unprofitable conflicts and enjoy harmonious friendships and relationships, even if it is not always easy.

Spiralling – This song, like others, combines upbeat music with more gloomy lyrics about cold and remote people always within our eyeline, failed pygmalion projects, and a feeling of isolation and loneliness. Despite its dance pop veneer, it fits the familiar Keane themes as it ruminates on the struggles for love and personal happiness and light.

Perfect Symmetry – Only the second of two songs from the Keane album by the same name, this song is a cynical ode to karma and the hope that the love and goodness of the singer/songwriter will be returned in due time, despite the tedium of analysis and the frustration of isolation and rejection. This particular song kept up the classic Keane piano balladry, which makes it a good here, even if there were plenty of other songs, like “Playing Along,” “Black Burning Heart,” and “You Don’t See Me,” among others, that would have fit in here.

My Shadow – The only song from the “Night Train” EP to be included on this compilation, this lovely piano ballad manages to combine a bit of hope with the family concerns about nonexistence that Keane, and the persistence of gloomy and melancholy memory, along with the desire to be in the light. Has a band ever sung more about a desire to be free of the darkness than Keane?

Silenced By The Night – This single, the first from the “Strangeland” album, marks a piano ballad with a familiar sound but optimistic lyrics that point to a restoration of broken friendships and relationships, where the past no longer becomes a source of torment and difficulty, but is made more bearable by the expectation of a better future to come. It should be noted that this is yet another song that expresses a desire to reach for the light.

Disconnected – This gorgeous piano ballad deals with a subject I can relate to all too well, the way that time can erode relationships, and the way that communication can be such a painfully difficult problem to deal with over and over and over again. You can really feel the singer’s desire to get beyond the breaks and the walls to communicate once again.

Sovereign Light Cafe – This spunky ballad appears to be a nostalgic look at life in a small town before Keane got famous and life got crazy. Again, this song reflects on a desire for connection and communication, something that Keane muses upon often. In the midst of life’s changes, this song points out that our characters are what they are, that we cannot escape from them, so we might as well embrace who we are and make the best of it. It gives this reflective song a bit of hard-won optimism.

Higher Than The Sun – The first of the two new tracks on this compilation, this song is a happy one that seems to put the difficulties of life into perspective pointing out how music allows one to express one’s longings and fears and allows us to find connection with others. In a retrospective mood, this lovely and soaring and even inspirational song encourages us to recognize the lasting value of what has been created and done and to appreciate life and find some sort of joy in it.

Won’t Be Broken – A piano ballad that would not have sounded out of place on “Strangeland,” this second unreleased track reflects a sense of resilience that one can overcome the difficulties of life even if one is unlucky, that no matter how often one is knocked down one can get up unbroken. After an album that lingered mostly in the sadness and melancholy gloom of a difficult life, the mood of optimism that the album ends with is touching even if it is a bit fragile.

Sometimes compilations suffer because of a lack of cohesion, but the consistency of themes, along with the fact that songs were chosen that fit a certain type of sound helped out with the sense of cohesion as well. There is also, pleasingly, a narrative trend to the album, with initial songs of hope and anxiety mixed together moving to a very gloomy middle of the album and ending on a note of hope and cautious optimism once again. And with that sort of hope in the future, I hope that there is much more to hear from Keane, and perhaps another best of compilation yet to come.

[1] Four of the albums have been previously reviewed:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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3 Responses to Album Review: The Best Of Keane: Disc One

  1. Pingback: Album Review: The Best Of Keane: Disc Two | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Do They Really Think Californians Are That Clueless? | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Album Review: Greatest Hits Of The Flute | Edge Induced Cohesion

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