In the two years that followed the release of their debut album, Keane established themselves as a promising part of the mainstream rock canon. Hit singles like "Somewhere Only We Know," "Bedshaped," and "Everything's Changing" made Hopes and Fears a transatlantic hit, earning the trio two Brit Awards, a Grammy nomination, and a host of sold-out world tours. Critics deemed them as likeable and as accessible as Coldplay, but Keane's return isn't as buoyant as their initial introduction, even if it keeps melody at the forefront. Whereas Hopes and Fears faced uncertainty head on with joyous enthusiasm, Under the Iron Sea is a darker, less romantic set of songs affected by a disenchanted outlook on life and the world's problems. Keane's members feels the frustration of a world torn apart by war, but they also express their own growing pains as a group. Songs such as the grayish ebb and flow of "A Bad Dream" and "Crystal Ball" connect with those reflections. Frontman Tom Chaplin faces the disappointment of growing older on the haunting "Atlantic," another stone-cold gem of synthesizer strings and Tim Rice-Oxley's gorgeous piano delivery. Just when you think it might be totally depressing, though, there are some hints of life hidden in the corners of Under the Iron Sea, and these mysterious loops highlight Keane's new sonic experiments. Thus far they've existed without guitars -- and although the bounty of this record breathes with a collection of various analog synths and an old electric piano, Rice-Oxley's performance is now enhanced with a bevy of guitar effect pedals. Debut single "It Is Any Wonder?" is layered with distorted keyboards as Chaplin cries out, "Stranded in the wrong time/Where love is just a lyric in a children's rhyme, a soundbite." The song was ostensibly written about the Iraq War -- specifically Britian's involvement -- and it's a move forward in both lyrical content and musical delivery. Keane should be applauded for going after a different sound; there's no harm in that, even though some die-hard fans might rush to judge Under the Iron Sea as sounding a bit too much like U2.
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AllMusic Review by MacKenzie Wilson