Perfect Symmetry is both an apt yet ironic title for the 3rd release from the British pop trio, Keane. The precision that envelopes these songs is reminiscent of those glossy techno hits of the 1980’s and, at the same time, reflects the fractured nature of the band’s direction. Keane built its reputation, in part, on piano driven melodies so it’s a bit disconcerting to hear the glut of synthesized keyboard in the band’s arrangements. Are we in Mr. Roboto land? Not quite but you can see it from here.
The opening track “Spiralling” features production that seems inspired by Oingo Boingo. Everything is over the top from the synthesizers to the staccato drums to lead singer Tom Choplin’s uber-dramatic vocals. Strip away the production and you have a pretty smart song underneath. “The Lovers Are Losing” is the albums first single and it is hard to ignore with its wall-of-sound intro. Get past that and you have a song more consistent with the sound of the Keane’s debut release. “Better Than This” sounds so much like something that jumped off the 1985 hit list that you might find yourself reaching for the skinny tie, lavender high-tops and hair gel.
I’m not sure what inspired the sound of the new album but Keane is not a band that stands pat on its laurels. Hopes and Fears was revered by fans and critics alike for its crystalline pop. Under the Iron Sea found the band traversing darker territory, both musically and lyrically. It received mixed reviews but proved the band could produce something more than aural confections. Clearly songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley is an adventurous sort. With the band’s early success it would have been so easy to fall into a sure-fire pattern, ala Coldplay, but Keane's is too audacious than to settle for that option.
Besides the ever-present piano hooks (the real deal does show up among the synth-keyboards) the defining sound of this band is Tom Choplin’s choir boy soprano. Sweet, clear and true, it holds each song together, no matter the swirling techno distractions. His vocals bring the humanity to songs like “You Don’t See Me,” and the title track.
Whether you like this album will come down to how you feel about the production. There’s no question that Keane is a talented band capable of creating great sounds but it also a band that mutates from record to record. Perfect Symmetry will be divined in the ear of the beholder.