Back in 2004, Keane first broke into the spotlight with the 9x Platinum Hopes and Fears. This was a fairly predictable piano pop album that was albeit infectious and gorgeous, also producing some excellent stand-out tracks (“Somewhere Only We Know”, “Untitled 1”, “Bedshaped”).
Two years later, their sophomore album, Under the Iron Sea, had more synth-based tracks and a lot more variation, from rock songs with fake guitars (“Is It Any Wonder?”) to genuinely moving ballads (“Try Again”). Perfect Symmetry (2008) definitely marked a big change in direction, with proper guitars in some tracks, an overall move towards ’80s-style pop and even a musical saw in one track (the excellent “You Haven’t Told Me Anything”).
Night Train, an eight-track EP they released May 2010, carried on from the departure of Symmetry, still following the band’s ethos of never retreating old ground. With a strange percussion-based instrumental intro, the aggressive synth riff of “Back in Time” (which was actually first written years ago) and the catchy guitars and vibraphone in “Clear Skies”, it’s pretty good considering that, being an EP, it was only really a between-albums stop-gap.
The highlight was single “Stop for a Minute”, a duet with Somali-Canadian worldbeat rapper/singer K’naan – the idea of which might have made many fans think “This is going to sound really bad.” But it’s an infectious combination of styles that genuinely works, while still being piano-led and not losing Keane’s unique sound.
It wasn’t all particularly special. The cover of the Japanese Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Ishin Denshin” (featuring Japanese singer Tigarah) had little to say for it. “Looking Back”, also featuring K’naan and a sample of the Rocky theme tune, sounded pretty awkward compared with the very well-done genre-busting of “Stop for a Minute”. “My Shadow” is fine but feels like you’ve heard it somewhere before.
However, the one thing you can’t accuse Night Train of is having a lack of variety. Keane may still not be the most creative band around, but despite the album’s 30-minute running time, its tracks range from the charming ’80s-flavoured synthpop of “Your Love” (featuring a rare lead vocal from keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley) to guitar-based rock to terrifically catchy R&B.
Night Train is far from a classic, but as an EP it is interesting, enjoyable and gives very high hopes for the quality of Keane’s fourth full-length album.
3½ out of 5