Let's pretend you're a genial pop band that's relentlessly compared with another popular band that just happens to be on hiatus. You both play cotton-candy melodies driven by a piano. Both of your sensitive lead singers tap their falsettos to reduce dreamy-eyed teenage girls to sighing messes. And (bonus!) you're both from the UK.
Uh-oh. The band you've been emulating has now reemerged to claim its heavyweight title, with a mega-selling album and sold-out shows.
That's the predicament facing Keane, whose sophomore album, ``Under the Iron Sea," is out today on Island. It's the band's first album since Coldplay returned with last year's big hit, ``X&Y."
When Keane released its debut, ``Hopes and Fears," while Coldplay frontman Chris Martin was off tending to wife Gwyneth Paltrow and baby Apple, it was like throwing welcome crumbs to Coldplay's fans. Songs such as ``Everybody's Changing" had a way of getting lodged into your head for weeks at a time. Nothing on ``Under the Iron Sea" seems immediately that infectious, though ``Nothing in My Way" and ``Is It Any Wonder?" will surely wind up in heavy rotation at an H&M near you.
The good news is, Keanedoesn't quite sound like its former self. And that's also the bad news. If you loved Keane for the shameless power-pop of ``Hopes and Fears," you're in for a surprise. The band has -- gulp -- grown up.
Simply put, the approach here is less Coldplay, more Radiohead lite. But what a lopsided pastiche it is. The biggest problem is the band can't figure out if the album should be portentous and edgy or playful and mannered. And if you believe the woe-is-me lyrics, it sounds as if someone has gotten his heart broken since the last album.
Opener ``Atlantic" sets an industrial darkness against Tom Chaplin's lament: ``I don't want to be old and sleep alone / An empty house is not a home / I don't want to be old and feel afraid." But then, on the chorus, there's the Keane you expect, with Chaplin dishing out honeyed Brian Wilson harmonies on top of cascading layers of overdubs.
Ballads still tend to be three-hanky affairs, with ``A Bad Dream" echoing previous tear -jerkers such as ``She Has No Time" -- plodding, cloying, and inexplicably catchy.
``Crystal Ball" is an obvious (and miserable) stab at Top 40 radio, with Chaplin pleading, ``Oh, crystal ball / Crystal ball / Save us all / Tell me life is beautiful." Better yet, tell me how this dreck ended up making the cut.
Still, there's a lot to like here. Chaplin possesses one of the loveliest falsettos in the business (step aside, James Blunt), and he shoots it to magnificent heights on songs such as ``Try Again." The piano, as played by songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley, is still in the mix, but now it's buried under Richard Hughes's clopping drums and Chaplin's squealing electric guitar. And Andy Green's production is akin to dropping a sponge capsule into water: It just gets bigger and bigger, until it fleshes out the sound to arena-size proportions.
So maybe you can't knock Keane for trying to mature, both sonically and lyrically. Perhaps the fans just need to grow up with them.
James Reed can be reached at email@example.com.