Mope Like Me: Keane, “Atlantic”

Written by Mope Like Me, Music

“I dooooooon’t wanna be old, and sleep alone / An empty house is not a home.”

The back half of that line is pure cliche, but that is the beauty of a good melody; you can sing any old dumb, tired expression and get away with it, as long as you say it the right way.

Indeed, it was downright ballsy of Keane – this might be the first time anyone has ever used ‘Keane’ and ‘ballsy’ in the same sentence, so let’s pause for a second and savor the moment – to open their 2006 album Under the Iron Sea with “Atlantic.” Yes, their 2004 debut Hopes and Fears played many of the same cards that Iron Sea does in terms of overwrought sentimentality, but there isn’t a single song on Hopes and Fears as naked or as vulnerable – not to mention downright odd – as “Atlantic,” and to open your sophomore album with a song like this is to risk career suicide. Of course, it only made me like them more.

Hopes and Fears was about bending but not breaking, the places only we know, and how your ex has no time for you now; it sure as hell wasn’t about the fear of dying alone. They showed glimpses of a darker side on the album’s last two songs, “Untitled I” (“You’re not the one I hoped for / I’ll see you on the other side”) and the brilliant “Bedshaped” (“Don’t laugh at me, don’t look away / You’ll follow me back with the sun in your eyes / And on your own”), but “Atlantic” takes an inter-dimensional leap from those songs. “I hope all my days will be lit by your face,” singer Tom Chaplin confesses, but Chaplin’s delivery of those words betrays the sentiment. This isn’t a love song; it’s the prayer of a groveling man. “I doooooon’t wanna be old, and feel afraid…”

And just then, just past the 2:30 mark, the clouds break, and the song sees its first major chord. The storm is over, and while the singer hasn’t escaped his dilemma, he at least begins to think in more positive terms: “I need a place that’s hidden in the deep / Where lonely angels sing you to your sleep / Though all the world is broken.” And, as one final gesture to show that Keane was trying to expand their sound as much as a keys/vox/drums band can, Chaplin’s last note is a half-step underneath the key. “The day is beginning,” he says, and you’re just waiting for him to climb up to the base note in the chord — but he never does. It’s a small thing, but I eat that stuff up.