Strangeland by Keane (Island Records, 2012. 45 minutes)

Keane is a piano-driven pop band lead by front man Tom Chaplin. Formed in 1997 in East Sussex, England, the band has achieved wide acclaim. Their most successful album is Under the Iron Sea, which topped charts and peaked at number four in the Billboard 200 in 2006.

Melody Is Dead

Melody is dead. Extinct. No more. It’s pushing up daisies. Melody takes up residence in the great musical beyond. The culprit? You. That’s right, you are solely responsible for grossly mangling melodic content to the point where it simply gave up and breathed its last.

It’s sad really—mostly because you had no idea you were doing it. The current shift in quality melodic content—what I’m going to call the “pop snippet”—has been so glacially paced you never noticed. In fact, you rather like the poppy tunes of late don’t you? 

In all truthfulness, melody isn’t dead. Melody, however, is a rarity. Melody, as I’m choosing to define it, is a musical phrase or motif which stands out at the forefront of a song, and has considerable shape, distinction, and length. Pop tunes only have the former part of the definition: a motif which stands out at the forefront of a song. Without the latter part of the definition, it’s just something that’s catchy. The “pop snippet” has no substance. 

The pop snippet emerged because record companies wanted the radio quickly to court you to love a song. Think of Katy Perry or Rhianna and how catchy their tunes are. However, there is no lasting substance. When you think of it, there is one little part of the song that repeats over and over again in repetitive motion. A good melody, however, lasts for a while, takes up considerable real estate in a song, and even though it’s long, you could sing it back. There is substance. If you want an example of a current good melody, think Gotye. If you want an example from longer ago, think Stevie Wonder, or better yet, Elton John.

There is no substance in Keane’s Strangeland. How do I know this? It’s boring as hell.

Silenced by the Night

Here’s a classic example of why this Keane album is awful: “Silenced by the Night”. In taking a listen to the verse structure of the band’s latest single, the melody does the same thing over and over. If you assign the melody numeric value representing distinct tones within a key, it goes like this: 2-3-2-1 (repeat ad nauseam). In listening to the chorus melody, it’s slightly more interesting! 6-4-2-3-2-1, (once again, repeat). In truth, you will never forget the “melody” of the song, because it’s terribly repetitive. Notice that both the verse and the chorus melody end in 2-3-2-1. 

At this point, it must be noted that I’m not trying to discredit the musicianship of the band, but rather of their compositional style. Keane has phenomenal musicians, to be certain. However, the lack of variation and substance on the album isn’t sustainable for a lasting future as a band.

You are Young

To the band’s merit, they have interesting hooks. However, that’s where the pleasantries end for me. At the band’s conception, I was intrigued by a fully-keyboard-driven band, and the lead vocals are quite good. In the song “You are Young”, the listener once again runs into the same barricade. The verse repeats one theme constantly, as does the chorus. The vocals, however, carry the track well; they are powerful and meaningful. The keyboards, however, only do the same percussive quarter note rhythm the whole time, and the drumbeat has little variation. 

Now, in the end, if it’s catchy, you can feel free to have a listen. I cannot dissuade a listener from what they like, or what they perceive as quality. Music is somewhat relative, but I firmly believe that a good melody makes a good song. Little pop snippets don’t make a good song, and songs made up entirely of said snippets do not make a good album. I’ve found a lack of quality in Keane’s Strangeland especially in regard to melody, and I urge you to find a better record with which to spend your time if at all possible.

Verdict: 2 out of 5
What do you think?  Is melody truthfully dead or dying?  Is there a difference between melodies of old and current ones?  Conversely, do you still like Keane, or like me have you become less enamored over time? Share your thoughts below.

Posted by: Andrew Jacobson
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