Keane desperately wants synth to be back in style. If Perfect Symmetry has any defining characteristic, it is the whirs and screeches and chords that can make anyone want to jump into a Duran Duran or Phil Collins video. But the question that arises when listening through the album is whether or not retro pop-rock is a progression or if it’s just old news.
At first listen, this album seems like a deviation from Keane’s first two major releases. This album mostly lacks the smooth charm of Hopes and Fears and throws out the dissonant tension of Under the Iron Sea. However, a few songs scream “classic Keane” on this album. After the first chorus of “The Lovers are Losing” you’ll be remembering the first few times you listened through “Can’t Stop Now” or “Leaving So Soon”. This is not meant to imply that Keane keeps writing the same songs. Like I said earlier, Perfect Symmetry is definitely different from the first two albums. However Tom Chaplin and company got into this new retro groove is outside my knowledge. Were they sitting around listening to Invisible Touch and got some ideas, or did they try something out and it just happened to gel… who knows? In the end, after a few listens, the initial thought stands: this material is a deviation from “classic” Keane. Despite a few oddities, like the vaguely creepy synth track on “Better Than This”, the sound is good.
As for the content of the album, there are several apparent singles, but no filler material is apparent. The album is fairly consistent all the way through. A few high points are worth noting though. The chorus of “The Lovers Are Losing” carries the song’s weight; it’s long, wordy and worthy of a grand sing-along. “You Haven’t Told Me Anything” is begging for a DJ to remix it, with its syncopated beats. And “Playing Along” seems to have some guitarish charms, something that’s rare for Keane.
So, is retro pop-rock an artistic progression, or is it just recycled motifs? The jury’s still out, but Keane HAS managed to take retro styling and apply it to the Keane sound to create something new entirely. Three albums into Keane’s major label career, I can only name a few groups who have truly reinvented their sound for each of their first three albums – U2 and Coldplay. So, maybe the comparisons go beyond just Keane’s sound, down to their actual composing qualities. Keane has put out another great album that should dispel uneasiness that might have arisen from Iron Sea’s sophomore slump. It’s catchy, it’s quality, and is destined to be a notable entry in the Keane catalog.