Until this point, Keane had never released an album in the same year as Coldplay. Maybe Perfect Symmetry is a sign that the band has finally branched out from unabashedly jocking its countrymen’s sound in a bid for popularity, but more likely, this is a sign that it has somehow managed to speed up the process of copying wholesale everything that Chris Martin’s outfit produces.
Symmetry is almost stereotypically maximalist. While this is enjoyable for the first few songs — “Spiralling” in particular hits all the right notes with its soaring synths — it quickly becomes exhausting and repetitive.
This isn’t a case of a band like Interpol or even (God help me) U2 producing genuinely epic songs with a competent band and lyrics that aren’t embarrassingly bad — on one song, lead singer Tom Chaplin whines, “We’re just the monkeys that fell out of the trees.” The problem isn’t that the lyrics are silly or even stupid; the problem is that they’re weird and out of place when the rest of the band is trying its very best to reproduce A Rush of Blood to the Head while Chaplin is singing something that Kimya Dawson might be mildly ashamed to have thought up.
Throughout the album, Keane can’t seem to get over its own “bigness.” It tries so hard that Symmetry ends up sounding something like a checklist of everything necessary to create the maximal tone the band is going for. The titular track, for example, is about the 2005 terrorist attacks on London, features a driving piano and soaring vocals; the result sounds something like Bruce Springsteen covering a Radiohead track.
All of these elements point towards “Perfect Symmetry” being an acceptable or even good song, but Keane tries so hard to cram all the elements of bigness into it that the song finds itself totally directionless, ultimately falling flat on its caterwauling face.
Keane seems to be trying to overcompensate for the fact that they are a small band with arena aspirations. The bottom line is that they are not Radiohead, and after three albums probably never will be, but they will be damned if they give up on their dreams of one day selling out whatever the largest venue in Britain is.
Contributing to this little-brother-in-daddy’s-shoes vibe are Tom Chaplin’s vocals. To be assured, Bono he is not. However, he lets no vowel escape unstretched or any word escape un-elongated to the point of losing meaning. This is a fine style of singing to have on a few epic ballads, and Chaplin has what most would call a good singing voice, but it never changes throughout the entire album.
You can switch lyrics and singing styles around at will throughout Symmetry because they are all pretty much exactly the same. This is not a problem if your goal is to sell a few singles and wash your hands of the entire matter, but Keane is clearly shooting for a more album-oriented style of rock. After about the fifth song of Chaplin whining his way through another chorus that attempts to soar, I was about ready to smash my iPod into a million pieces just to stop his nasally voice from ever stretching the word “around” into a 15-second long “o” sound ever again.
Overall, the album is listenable when taken in small chunks. One song at a time, it’s even kind of reminiscent of late-period U2 or Coldplay. If that’s your cup of tea, then great, because the entire album is basically “Vertigo” mashed up with “Speed of Sound” with a little bit of The Bends thrown in for good measure.
If not, then stay away for your own listening sanity, as it will quickly be shattered after hearing Chaplin sing apparently the same exact song for the 12th time in a row as you sit there wondering why nobody told them that hey, maybe branching out a little would not be such a bad idea.