The ‘Best Of’ Album: How Bands Tell Fans to Say Goodbye

The bands I loved in high school were a sort of Musical Trinity. Like Christianity’s Father-Son-Holy Ghost, mine were Coldplay-Keane-Snow Patrol. They were all British. They wrote massive anthems about love and life and their noble failures to enjoy both at the same time. They all made famous cameos on Grey’s Anatomy when one of the characters were dying. Altogether, they were the kind of band any lovesick high school wannabe poet would love. I sure did.

Ten years later, I still consider this Trinity very much secure. Mostly for nostalgic reasons. While I can still wallow to Snow Patrol and be moved by Gary Lightbody’s overzealous earnestness and my allegiance to Coldplay only grows more every day, Keane hasn’t lingered in my musical consciousness nearly as much. They sound like the past. Which is hard to explain.

Keane was the first band I ever asked my girlfriend to stop talking for. While she jabbered about high school nonsense, I asked her to stop. A new song was playing I’d recently started to love was getting traction on the radio. It was called Somewhere Only We Know.

They were my first concert: at Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield. I brought Pamela, who I definitely was in the Friendzone with. Enea brought his new girlfriend Amanda. It may be the best concert I’ve ever attended. I’ve seen them two other times. But that show sparked a passion for live music that exists to this day.

On Manhattan’s 58th Street and 8th Avenue, there’s a building with a facade full of triangles. It stands beside the Time Warner Center.  On the 2nd Floor was a Borders, where I bought my Keane’s Under the Iron Sea. Upon buying it, I went to a random plaza across from this building. To this day, I call it “The Atlantic Building” after the first song on that album.

It’s hard to explain how important Keane’s music was to my musical development. They’ve mattered to me as much as any other band I’ve loved have mattered. Which is why, as my musical interests have expanded, I’m sad they haven’t come for ride.

Keane released their new single this week “Higher than the Sun.” It is everything I hate about their new music.

It is the sound of a band that has given up. Keane could tie half of their brains behind their backs and come up with this song. By the very nature of being musicians with skill, they can dip into their musical woodshed and come up with these results. Which is not to say the song isn’t good. It’s just entirely everything the song would be if they intended to make a song without committing a single ounce more effort beyond their comfort zone. This song is entirely fine because they’re entirely good at what they do. Except this band gave so much more.

It isn’t surprising then that this single comes upon the release of the Best of album.

I’ve never understood the purpose of a “Best Of” album. Any band worthy of putting out a CD called “The Best” must have die hard fans. By definition, these fans already have all of their music. Any band worthy of putting out a CD called “The Best Of” must have been popular enough to get the attention of any casual music fan. If by this point they aren’t die hards, they probably won’t be.

By every subjective measure, Keane is not as musically interesting or as musically adventurous as they once were. Their commitment to creating a visual world with their songs, which was the strength of Under the Iron Sea, is gone. They’ve retreated to what they do best: writing songs on the piano about living life to the fullest with the people who matter most. It is, without question, a perfectly wonderful motivation for making music. It’s one, though, that doesn’t speak to me.

There was a lot about Keane to criticize but I never entertained the haters. Keane are good. Tom Chaplin is an amazing singer. Tim Rice-Oxley, an amazing lyricist and arranger. Along with their childhood friend Richard Hughes, they created songs that resonated. They just don’t anymore.

So this Best-Of album sounds like a concession – an acknowledgment that a band’s career has taken a shift from its glorious past to an uninspired future. It’s an acknowledge to say “thank you” for putting a band in a position to take a breath.  They don’t have to live for the road anymore. They don’t have to struggle in the studio in their pursuit of a perfect song. They’re good.

They’re not the only band I’ve loved now releasing a Best Of Album. The Killers, the first band I honored with a poster on my college dorm wall, will do so later this fall. Snow Patrol released theirs in 2011. They all, like Keane, can enjoy a future made because of the past they worked to leave behind. And in that way, we leave that past behind too.

Maybe these bands know this. Maybe they’re giving their fans a way to put a punctuation on the relationship that began almost ten years ago.

A Best Of album is a band’s way of letting us say “Goodbye”. Maybe these bands know this. Maybe they’re giving their fans a way to put a punctuation on the relationship that began almost ten years ago. Just because it ends and it didn’t, or honestly probably couldn’t, last forever, that doesn’t mean it didn’t matter.

Question:  What has Keane’s music meant to you? Will it still in the future?

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One thought on “The ‘Best Of’ Album: How Bands Tell Fans to Say Goodbye”

  1. I just heard “Higher Than The Sun” for the first time tonight and I think it is classic Keane. In my mind, they have always been a band that can relate to your emotions on a good or bad day. Personally, several of their songs are directly related to some of my clearest memories and every time these songs are played, my memories arise again. I am almost 20 years old and I discovered Keane when I was just entering my teenage years. They are the epitome of piano rock. In a musical world today where pop dominates the charts and iPods of listeners, it’s so refreshing to have Keane continue to inspire listeners’ minds in such a powerful manner. I appreciate the effort you put into this article, but I respectfully disagree with your statement that this “Best Of” album is their farewell. I believe that we haven’t seen the last of these guys. “Strangeland” catapulted them back onto the scene in Great Britain and across the globe. Great things are still ahead for Keane.

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