Eyes Open Under the Iron Sea

After listening to relatively little new music this year, the summer is shaping up to be big, with new releases on their way from The Divine Comedy, Nouvelle Vague, Thom Yorke and Muse. The first contenders for dominance of yours truly’s temporal lobe are 2004 heavyweights Snow Patrol and Keane, both of whose new albums I picked up as soon as they came out.

Snow Patrol’s Eyes Open is, like Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head, an album that builds on a breakthrough predecessor and makes a mad dash for the stadium finishing line. Maybe that’s why I’m finding it hard to love as much as Final Straw, which at least for a while felt like a private pleasure. But that’s hardly fair on the new album, which is full of great songs and doesn’t lose its way as badly as, say, X&Y; doesn’t lose its way at all, really. The only touch that doesn’t really work for me is Martha Wainwright’s guest appearance on one track, which feels slightly contrived; strange, really, because other female guest vocalist appearances have turned good albums into great ones.

Oddly enough, Eyes Open has me thinking of Powderfinger—never a band I listened to in a big way, but part of the musical landscape for any Australian rock fan in the late 1990s. The same epic aspirations, similar light-and-dark textures, and even something of Bernard Fanning in Gary Lightbody’s vocals. What it doesn’t really remind me of, musically at least, is Coldplay, despite how Snow Patrol are classed as Coldplay wannabes by half the UK music press.

Keane, on the other hand... yes, one might say there’s a tenuous Coldplay connection there, if one were going heavy on the understatement. At the end of 2004 I was resisting the charms of Hopes and Fears as being just too calculated, too derivative. But I have to admit it’s done more loops through the playlist in the past 18 months than most; and judging from the first twelve hours of listening to Under the Iron Sea, this one’s going to do the same.

The album almost never happened, apparently, as the band almost fell apart before it was made. That might have helped the end-product, which has disturbing and dark undercurrents beneath its polished and impossibly melodic surface. It’s still derivative to some extent—towards the end we get hints of Kid A, and like Eyes Open it has its U2 moments, with “Is It Any Wonder?” sounding as if Tim Oxley-Rice is playing keyboard samples of pure Edge. (Whatever else it does, this album will temper perceptions of Keane as a piano band; you’ve never heard so many guitar-sounds-that-aren’t.) But Under the Iron Sea consolidates and extends Keane’s sound in ways that make it increasingly hard to think of them as nothing but knock-offs.

Once again, it’s an album aimed squarely at the stadiums. After selling four million copies of their debut you wouldn’t think they’d need to ramp up their sound, but big spaces need big noises, big vocals, big range, and Under the Iron Sea is bigger in almost every respect than their first. Big enough to put them alongside all those influences and ahead of their rivals? Could be.

Fortunately, I’ll get to sample some of these stadium contenders in Edinburgh’s very own Meadowbank Stadium this August. The 2006 T on the Fringe programme reads like my CD collection, with Snow Patrol and Elbow in one show—two great bands with a combined total of seven great albums. Ticketmaster have sold out of their allocation, but the Fringe office still has tickets (even though their site has been melting down since Fringe sales kicked off yesterday).

Keane are playing too, but I passed on their show: with only two albums to their name it’s going to have a fairly predictable set list (also, Jane doesn’t like Hopes and Fears much). Maybe I’ll change my mind, though. Maybe I’ll try to book tickets only to find they’ve all sold out because Under the Iron Sea is so huge, and I’ll kick myself for not getting them yesterday.

But the big score is bigger than any of these bands, good though they are. Because top of the T on the Fringe bill is Muse—Muuuuuuuusssse!—and I’m there, baby. The band who made two of my favourite albums of the past five years, and they reckon their new one is the best yet. Ohmygod.

Mustn’t think about it too much. Must keep ripping old Pink Floyd CDs to take my mind off it.


13 June 2006 · Music

Okay, so I could handle your Elbow fixation. But Keane and Snow Patrol, Rory? Oh man. Hopefully, the new Muse album (I happen to like them too) should shake you out of your comfort a bit. :)

And if Keane is the band of choice these days, might I also suggest Maximo Park? I'm getting worried about your blood circulation. :)

Added by ed on 13 June 2006.

Hey, I seem to remember that “Somewhere Only We Know” was once a Song In My Ed, er, Head.

Heard a bit of Maximo Park, and it’s okay, but I prefer Bloc Party. As for blood circulation, I have only this riposte:


Added by Rory on 13 June 2006.

Elbow is borderline. BORDERLINE, I tell ya! The Coldplay it's okay to like.

But I will say that I didn't know there was a new Divine Comedy album coming out until I read your blog. So you're okay in my book. :)

Added by ed on 13 June 2006.

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