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A Song of Portent and Devotion

Keane attempts to wriggle out of the shadow of Coldplay.
Keane attempts to wriggle out of the shadow of Coldplay.

Keane's new Under the Iron Sea opens with a song called "Atlantic," a promising burst that all but announces, "We are now wriggling out of the imposing shadow of Coldplay." Early on, its most prominent feature is an arpeggiating piano figure, until a mighty movie-music string section surges to the forefront. The tempo is slow and stately, a closing-credits crawl, and the strings move with somber purpose, as though leading listeners to an inquisition. Singer Tom Chapin's first entrance briefly stops the march, but after the opening line -- "I hope all my days will be lit by your face" -- the grandeur returns.

The sheer heft of "Atlantic" might provide nectar to those hoping that this melancholy trio would develop its own sonic signature. "Atlantic" achieves that objective far more effectively than the rest of Under the Iron Sea, a series of navigating-the-seas-of-love metaphors that's often pretty ordinary. The song has an unusual structure -- there’s no oft-repeated refrain -- and its mix of portentous music and devotional lyrics is, at the least, unconventional.

Even here, however, Keane can’t fully shake its influences. As Chapin repeats the homily "an empty house is not a home," his heavy dread announces a sea change: Keane has, momentarily anyway, left the calm waters of Coldplay, and is now toiling in the turbulent shadow of Radiohead.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.