After a four-year hiatus, Keane are back with their fifth studio album, entitled Cause and Effect, released on 20th September 2019. The title seems apt given the lyrical themes of facing up to the consequences of one’s actions. Indeed, the lyrics on the album are consistently framed in a relatable, domestic context and, although some lyrics are predictably vague like that of Keane’s most catchy, pop-inspired single to date, Love Too Much, Keane show maturity in other songs by exploring the damage mid-life identity crises and infidelity can inflict on previously strong domestic relationships. A far-cry from the cheesy, inspirational pop-rock of Keane’s past, Cause and Effect explores depression, divorce, blame, regret, bitterness and other dark themes, intertwined with the band members’ real experiences of addiction or depression since their last album.
Cause and Effect is characterised by the band’s liberal use of artificial, electronic and ambient sounds to complement their lively authentic instrumentation, such as Richard Hughes’ infectious drum beats and delicate percussion. For every bouncy, pop-sounding track, there is another that sets itself apart from the rest with the use of strings, for example, like the charming Thread. Cause and Effect also retains the vocal quality of front-man Tom Chaplin and his propensity to belting out glorious long notes, as well as harmonious backing vocals from the rest of the band. Some of Chaplin’s falsetto work on tracks like I’m Not Leaving, are genuinely chilling, and the haunting melismatic vocals also present in this track create a slightly darker tone than that of previous albums in Keane’s discography.
My personal favourite track on the album is the cathartic Stupid Things, a desperate plea for forgiveness and an expression of regret for the mistakes the narrator has made that have slowly destroyed his romantic relationship with the mother of his children. Perhaps, this is the moment that an unfaithful husband comes clean to his wife about his infidelity, mentioned in the lyrics of Put The Radio On. Instead of “little lies and alibis,” the narrator comes clean about his duplicity. However, the cheerful layering of lively piano and groovy drum and bass, as well as Chaplin’s optimistic vocal delivery make the actual lyrics seem out of place. Perhaps, the breakdown of the man’s marriage is supposed to interpreted as a positive, allowing him to meet someone else by the end of the track list. In this sense, Cause and Effect is almost a concept album, loosely following the story of a man reflecting on the ‘cause and effect’ consequences of his life decisions and the subsequent destruction of his old domestic life. He “miss[es] the kid’s bedtime again” because of his affair and he is recognising the effect he has had on those he loves. This man is presented as a microcosm for all humans that make mistakes; indeed, if I was allowed one word to describe the album lyrically, ‘human’ would be my pick, due to the thoroughly relatable lyrical themes.
The album opener, You’re Not Home, is also a personal favourite as its almost dreamy ambience makes it akin to Radiohead’s Kid A, one of my favourite electronically influenced songs of the 21st century. The track also boasts swirling, arpeggiated keys and synth layers throughout; in the last minute, the song really explodes, making it one of the most intense emotional rollercoasters on the already incredibly emotive album.
According to Keane’s iconic pianist and song-writer Tim Rice-Oxley, You’re Not Home is about “the feeling of being in an empty house that used to feel much more like a home, and how terrifying that can be.” Keane addresses much darker and realistic themes, while still managing, in classic Keane style, to include romantic ballads like I Need Your Love on the album. Another favourite, Keane’s first single since their break, The Way I Feel, is a surprisingly upbeat and bouncy song despite its rather introverted lyrics about longing for anonymity and to be the same as everyone else. There is also a beautifully executed falsetto section about half-way through the track, supported by calming, ambient echoes, which serves as a refreshing break from the lively, danceable pop-rock of the rest of this track and album.
Other highlights include the sorrowfully slow, yet hopeful, piano-driven Strange Room, the wholesome Phases about learning from our mistakes, and the frankly underrated Chase The Night Away, which seems to draw heavy influence from the music of the American three-piece, Interpol. Put The Radio On is also an interesting track that deserves a mention. Most of the song is simply one chord recycled into what Rice-Oxley called a “hypnotic, cyclical groove.” While this first section of the song is dark, and about the forbidden temptation of sexual promiscuity, towards the end, the song becomes incredibly romantic, suggesting the husband might have genuinely found love with his mistress. This one reminds me of the ballads of fellow English alternative rock band Elbow, with some sections of Chaplin’ vocals sounding nostalgic and incredibly similar to his best moments on Keane’s defining debut album, Hopes and Fears (2004).
Overall, despite initially mistaking the album’s cover art for a bucket of KFC chicken (I can’t unsee it), my opinion of Cause and Effect is generally positive. Although I criticised the lyrics and pop-sound of songs like Love Too Much, it is precisely these songs that add an extra dimension to the album and give Cause and Effect the much-needed catchy charisma of pop-rock. It’s not a groundbreaking work of sonic art, but it is a surprisingly charming, hidden nugget of gold in an overcrowded and often uninspired, modern music industry, as well as a welcome addition to Keane’s discography for loyal fans of the East Sussex quartet.