Cause and Effect
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Almost six years out of the spotlight after simultaneously releasing a greatest hits compilation and announcing an indefinite hiatus in late 2013, post-Britpop band Keane is back together again to tell a dramatic story about one of their own on their fifth studio album, Cause and Effect.
The entire album revolves around the mid-life downward spiral of the band’s principal songwriter and keyboardist, Tim Rice-Oxley, which began as his marriage ended, and picked up speed when he was later arrested for driving drunk in England after crashing his car. After these events, he found himself completely lost about the direction of his life.
Originally, Rice-Oxley wrote songs about it all for a planned solo album. But when he showed them to Keane’s lead singer Tom Chaplin (who had released two solo albums during the band’s downtime), his bandmate immediately connected to his raw lyrics and honest revelations about dark moments and regrettable mistakes. Once Keane’s drummer Richard Hughes and bassist Jesse Quin heard the songs, the band felt they had a reason to regroup and turn the compositions into Keane’s next album.
What they recorded with producer David Kosten (a.k.a. Faultline) is, in a way, an elegant and adult concept album about the demolition of a romantic relationship and how its rippling wake knocks you off balance, throws you underwater, and ignites a long period of self-examination as you eventually approach dry land. It lays bare what Rice-Oxley went through, with Chaplin, once again, taking on the important duty of interpreting his good friend’s lyrics on a new Keane album. But, this time, the words and stories are darker, deeper and way more personal.
In the album’s opener, “You’re Not Home,” Chaplin’s grounded tenor quietly reveals Rice-Oxley’s struggle to adjust to his suddenly empty home (“And it’s cold, cold, cold, cold, cold / And you’re not home, home, home, home / I sit and stare, I sit and stare / Into my phone, phone, phone, phone, phone”). Chaplin’s pining tentativeness is, at first, set against a slight lullaby aesthetic brushed with electronic pops and driven by a circular ascending beat. But, this is a Keane album so, naturally, it builds into an explosive anthem that hammers home the loneliness of looking back on better days (“I love that silver-grey first morning light / I see that fearless love in your blue eyes / Think I can picture some new shape of life / But now you're not home.”)
That simultaneous balladry and bombast sets the stage for a diverse collection of darker-hued lyrics written by Rice-Oxley that, at times, examine his hollowed-out moments (lead single “The Way I Feel”) or reveal, with unflinching honesty, his role in everything falling apart (the partially autobiographical “Stupid Things”).
On the hazy and plaintive “Thread,” Chaplin tenderly lays bare the fragility of Rice-Oxley’s doomed marriage (“A fine thread, not tough enough to bear / The weight of desire and despair / Untended, the fibers start to fray / The long years of working as one / Were just washed away”). It’s at the end of the song, though, just when you think it’s over, where a glimpse of what may have set off the personal avalanche that inspired the creation of this album is presented when Chaplin dejectedly reveals, “I don’t know why I said / I’m not in love with you.”
Not every song examines a failed relationship and the personal havoc it unleashes, but all are definitely colored by Rice-Oxley’s life-altering chain of events that thematically connect the album. For instance, the wistful “I’m Not Leaving” is, as he recently told Apple Music, a song for his daughters to listen to when they grow up and inevitably start making “mistakes that matter.” But, the question of love’s permanence still sneaks its way into his lyrics (“On days like this, you wonder what true love is / Does it even exist—the kiss, the prince, the story for the kids?”)
Even though there’s the usual Keane mix of brooding ballads and soaring pop sing-alongs on the album, Cause and Effect feels more personal, more revealing and more sonically and lyrically exploratory than what’s been heard on the last few Keane studio albums. It makes sense, though, when taking the stories behind the songs into consideration.
When you’re pushing forty, like Rice-Oxley was during part of his troublesome journey, it’s inevitable (for most people, but not everyone) that maturity and life experience force you to examine your failures and mistakes more deeply, especially when it comes to ending romantic relationships. You’re older now, there’s more at stake (i.e., kids, mortgages, professional commitments), and you end up staying hurt longer than when you were younger because starting over again is a much more exhausting and daunting task when you’re older.
Most of the soundscapes on Cause and Effect reflect that broadened life experience and wisdom that comes from age and maturity. Under Kosten’s producing lead, the band plays with warm electronic samples, understated string arrangements, and more song structure experimentation than they’ve done before. A myriad of moods permeates the collection, dials back their signature percussive piano-based arrangements, and keeps the ebb and flow of emotions continual.
On songs like “Put The Radio On” (about a casual sex hookup) or the aforementioned “Stupid Things” (about a businessman who cheats) and “You’re Not Home,” the band is painting with wider sonic brushes that add gravitas to the heavier lyrical subject matter. Whereas the arrangements on their last few albums were created with brush strokes of lacquered solid colors that Keane fans were familiar with, this time around many of the songs are painted with watercolors that expand on the canvas as you listen. That’s partially due to Kosten’s insistence that the band members challenge themselves by not sticking so close to the demos they made for the album, as was the band’s usual process on their past recordings.
Throughout Cause and Effect you can feel the care that Chaplin puts forth in truthfully interpreting his old friend Rice-Oxley’s emotionally candid songs. In recent years, Chaplin had come out the other side of a long addiction battle with cocaine. So, it’s clear that lyrics filled with despair and questioning resonated with Chaplin who’s been very public about his own downfall and eventual recovery.
On “Strange Room,” you can hear that connection the strongest. It’s the one song on the album that directly addresses Rice-Oxley’s drunk driving accident and arrest in 2014. When Chaplin sings, “Officer, let me explain / I lost something I love today / Yeah, I know what it looks like / A rich kid with a good life,” his intimate, sheepish delivery infers that, as a result of his own battles, he’s familiar with what it’s like to have to embarrassingly explain your problematic behavior to someone else.
They’ve known each other since childhood (Rice-Oxley’s parents are Chaplin’s godparents) so, perhaps that’s why the album often feels like a brotherly love letter from Chaplin to Rice-Oxley that honors, without judgment, what Rice-Oxley went through. “There's no one else I would trust with that information and those songs that are so important to me,” he recently remarked about handing the lyrics over to Chaplin to sing. “For me, it's a real pleasure to hear him take that raw material and make it into something heavenly,” he added.
When all four members gather together to sing out Rice-Oxley’s inner thoughts, like on the desire-filled album closer “I Need Your Love,” the band’s singular motive behind making an album together again after so much time away is most fully realized. It’s in these arm-in-arm aural moments that Cause and Effect reveals itself to truly be Keane’s “Band of Brothers” album —where the foursome joined back together on a quest to release the demons associated with a difficult journey traveled by one of their own.
As a result, Keane has created their most focused, emotionally resonant, and sonically adventurous album yet.
Notable Tracks: "Put The Radio On" | “Strange Room” | "Stupid Things" | “The Way I Feel” | “You’re Not Home”