As a man who lives his life in a mental landscape dotted with boulders of isolation, longing, resignation and the occasional scattering of hope, it’s rather fitting that I’m a fan of the British band Keane.
Their music contains elements of all the above, and like any music that matches your temperament, it can be incredibly transporting. It amplifies the joy, sorrow or elation you’re feeling like a giant telescope.
Derided by the music press for little discernible reason other than they’re middle-class (people from more privileged backgrounds aren’t allowed to feel depressed, it would seem), Keane’s worst crime is not their music but that they allow it to be used in Disney films and risible rom-coms.
But you can’t begrudge them a living.
Their new album Strangeland has, in particular, six beautifully executed songs that capture the pain of loss, the joy of rediscovering old ties, and the gentle encouragement to keep moving through life in spite of it all.
1. Silenced By The Night
We were silenced by the night, but you and I are gonna rise again
Divided from the light, I want to love the way we used to live
Dark times in life can strike both partners in a relationship with depression. You act as a mirror to each other, and sometimes lack the strength to help each other crawl out of the pit.
I’ve written before about being frightened by the night, whereas in younger years I used to embrace it. The narrator here is caught in the same conundrum. He closes his eyes and imagines driving with his lover, and longs for the closeness that once existed.
Yet despite the pain, there is longing and hope for change. They’re divided from what they once had, but a divide can be bridged. What they had has not been destroyed.
I feel like I just don’t know you anymore,
But I’ve been burned and I’ve been wrong so many times,
We walk in circles, the blind leading the blind…
In this song, the relationship in question has broken down further. A disconnection has grown over time – as sung, a chemical has broken down the glue that once bound the lovers together.
But as in any frayed relationship that one hopes to save, the narrator is attempting to communicate. The disconnection is acknowledged, along with his own flaws and insecurities that may have contributed to the breakdown.
Without open and honest communication, the relationship has been left to move by its own inertia, in circles of dysfunction.
The melody and arrangement of this song is so uplifting that if it were being sung to you by a friend or lover you’d lost touch with, you’d have to be a rock not to be moved by its sentiment.
3. Sovereign Light Café
Let’s go down to the rides on East Parade, by the lights of the Palace Arcade
And watch night coming down on the Sovereign Light Café
Let’s go down to the bandstand on the pier, watch the drunks and lovers appear
To take turns as the stars at the Sovereign Light Café
I’m going to drag myself out on a wobbly branch here and say this is probably one of the most beautiful and definitive please for reconnection ever committed to tape.
The narrator is going back to his past, but does not wish to live there out of delusional nostalgia. Place names and shared activities with a special friend are mentioned, but it’s clear that these are mere memory triggers for what the narrator really desires: to reconnect with someone he loves despite the changes in their lives and the mistakes they have made.
It presents the paradox that sometimes in order to move forward you have to go back. There are essential elements in our lives that keep us well, and once we realise what they are, we can make moves to keep them close to us at all times.
Uplifting and transformative.
4. On The Road
So when the sun is coming up and you go
And there’s still so many things you don’t know
Don’t you look back
I’ve no doubt that I will see you on the road
One of several tracks dismissively referred to by critics as sounding like something from a cheap self-help book, I think this unfairly writes off the need that all of us have at times for very simple and basic words of encouragement.
An upbeat rocker that melodically echoes John Denver, the lyric offers the metaphor of life as a road – hardly original, admittedly – but the way in which the words of friendship are offered successfully navigate the fine line between the caring and patronising.’
The narrator reminds his friend that carrying on with life is possible despite uncertainties and fears, offers a helping hand for tough times, but in the end simply gestures to the road ahead and says with confidence, see you out there.
5. In Your Own Time
In your own time
There’s no map to guide our way
So I say nothing, you say nothing
In your own way
Thought I could help you find your place
But I’m as lost as you are lost these days
The penultimate track on the album is a heartbreakingly beautiful chronicle of two friends attempting to guide each other through dark times, with a gently pulsing rhythm that builds to an emotional climax.
Again, the encouragement and hope are ever-present, but so is the acknowledgement that sometimes there is just no off switch for depression. We cope in our own ways, with help, and somehow find our way back to the light with little idea of how we got there except for the knowledge that we had someone share the journey with us.
The song is sung by someone who is not quite there yet, and is still in pain, but ultimately knows he and his friend will experience the change they need to continue with a life of happiness.
6. Sea Fog
Sea fog comes like a river rolls a stone,
It’s rolling me
I always think it’s a bold stroke when groups decide to end an album on a song so delicate you hardly knew they were there in the first place (most poignantly displayed on ABBA’s final album, “The Visitors” with the track “Like An Angel Passing Through My Room”).
When I first heard “Sea Fog”, I blinked a few times and thought, is that it? Particularly given that it follows the intense and heartfelt “In Your Own Time”.
But this is a morning after song, when you’ve woken up at 5am and everyone else in the house is still asleep. You go outside to focus the noodle soup of thoughts you’ve awoken with, and find that the mood outside both overwhelms you and comforts you simultaneously.