wednesday, may 17, 2006
Hopes and Fears - KeaneA friend of mine in England sent me a bunch of music last year and I tossed it on my iPod and have been whittling my way through it all courtesy the “shuffle” option. I had heard of Keane due to the overwhelming popularity of their hit “Everybody’s Changing” that was all over the airwaves last year – even here in Peru. I didn't get excited about them though. Having seen so many next-big-thing’s turn into much ado about nothing I tend to be cautious about the next big thing.
But after hearing a few more songs from the band over the last few months I had to admit, I was impressed. Keane’s debut album Hopes and Fears is not only a wonderful little album, I believe it is the sign of great things to come. This trio from East Sussex, England have a great sound that remains fresh despite the seriousness they have to the effort.
Hopes and Fears is a more optimistic work than I suspected at first glance. It is full of expectation and promise and has the wonderful quality of looking forward to the future with anticipation not dread. Keane’s sound is surprisingly well-crafted and mature for a young band. The trio lost their guitarist just prior to recording this album and that seems to be the key to making the sound work.
And it seems that Hope and Fears is not an isolated incident. After years of enduring the progressively more irrelevant and bloated offerings by the once dynamic talents of the music scene, there are suddenly a host of vibrant new bands milling about for your attention: Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chefs, Bloc Party, Gorillaz, Athelete… it’s a pretty impressive list and it’s growing by the day.
But before I touch on that we should probably step back to those heady days of the mid-1990s when Britpop was the word and it ruled the roost.
So what, exacty, was Britpop? Hard to say. My approach is to start with the media-fueled battle between Oasis and Blur in the mid-1990s and go back until you run into the Happy Mondays gleefully doing their thing in Manchester and call it a day.
That casts a pretty wide net that includes Suede, Pulp, Dodgy, Ocean Colour Scene, Supergrass, The Verve and Radiohead. It’s probably best to say that if you were a contemporary band using guitars and were involved at all in the soundtrack of Trainspotting, you are guilty as charged. The one thing we can agree on is that it’s pretty much deader than dirt. Because when you get your own BBC special and an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, the movement can be considered over.
As much as I love digging up my Spiritualized records every so often, I find I hunger for new music. Since, oh about 1998, I felt I have been waiting for it. And then, when I had almost given up hope, it looks like it showed up when I wasn't looking. Post-Britpop seems to have arrived and it isn’t ashamed to wear its heart on its sleeve.
So while folks might scoff at the forthrightness of a band like Coldplay, there is a refreshing appeal about a band being sincere and honest in what they are trying to say. And having the courage to do that seems to have opened up whole new fields of artistic exploration that their lush and orchestratic approach takes full advantage of.
Although much is made of how Britpop was a reaction to the tidal-wave popularity of grunge, that aspect seemed less important in the work itself. British musicians have always been more conscious of building on the work of those that have gone before them rather than tearing them down, in the style of the Americans.
The influence of Britpop is very much at the heart of the music being crafted by this new wave of musicians. Like a lot of these bands, Keane started out playing covers of the Britpop stalwarts Oasis and it shows. But the key is in how they chose to move beyond that. As much as the guitar driven power of Britpop was a reaction to the electronic din that preceded it, Keane is part of a newer “wave” that eschews the instrument for the keyboards. It as a lush richness that just hasn’t been in music for a long time.
What I particularly like about this new style is the fact it is about something rather than against. This is a particular legacy they get by holding up U2 as their classical exemplar. As irksome as Bono’s peachiness could become, it ages a hell of a lot better than Johnny Rotten’s constant obnoxiousness.
Legendary British rocker Robyn Hitchcock once observed that there is a real danger in cynicism – its seductive comfort. “It gives you the excuse to become what you despise,” he noted. A pitfall it shares with irony. How can you stand for something if you won’t stand for anything? Your only other option is excess and you are never going to top Keith Moon in that department
Right now, post-Britpop is a scattered and gloriously eclectic managerie of bands doing their own things. By the time we get to sophomore efforts and relentless and endless articles in NME over the whole mess it will be nicely niched and classified for general consumption. But, why worry about that right now when you can head to the record store and be part of something interesting, exciting and alive that you will tell folks about ten years from now when we are all looking for that next-big-thing.
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