THE BLOG
18/11/2013 14:29 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

Why Bands Aren't as Good as They Used to Be

This week I was at the Children in Need Rocks concert to see British act, Keane. As someone at the business end of his 20s, I've watched the band's whole career so far, and it felt a bit premature for them to be releasing a Best Of compilation after just four studio albums.

After all, I was pretty hostile to their brand of whine-pop at first, only to develop a profound affection for their songs and performances; one that isn't extended to the newer acts that played, such as Bastille and Tom Odell.

Now, we've all heard our elders bang on about how bands of their generation are better than ours, and though I've always seen this as sentimental bosh, I wondered if there could be a deeper reason.

After all, Keane aren't that good, are they?

Maybe not. Cognitive psychologists identify the reminiscence bump as a period of heightened recollection, which occurs between the ages of 15 and 25.

During this time, we have an increased capacity to encode autobiographical memories, and because music is so central to our identities, the emotional resonance of music we enjoyed during that time is stronger.

This has profound commercial implications for bands like Keane - a band who have seen a sharp drop-off in sales from their 2004 debut; Hopes and Fears.

To give a little context, the first album sold around 6m copies worldwide, with the follow-up Under the Iron Sea shifting 3m, and 2008's Perfect Symmetry selling just under 1m.

Now, this is not surprising - debut albums are often the biggest sellers; capitalising on the buzz generated by a new band, zero expectation from the listener and the capacity of the label to position the band most effectively on-trend - in this case as a more musical, less sanctimonious Coldplay.

Additionally, new bands may have been working on their debut album for ten years, whereas follow-up records are often required in a two or three year album cycle, as stipulated by the label.

The net result is that a steep drop off in sales can leave a band rudderless in mid-career, and in hock to their initial audience - an older audience that may now be emotionally incapable of connecting with new material in the same way.

This is why you see recording artists re-invent themselves to stay fresh and capitalise on younger audiences' own reminiscence bumps.

Keane have not done this - nor should they - having originally positioned themselves around honesty, integrity and authenticity. Thus, despite the quality of song writing (for the first three albums, at least) being fairly consistent, they have struggled to appear relevant, and are forced to release a Best Of already.

Furthermore, Keane could sabotage listeners' relationship with Hopes and Fears if they suddenly try and be cool. Royalties from that album could put the band's kids through university.

Our relationships with music are rarely straightforward - a hidden indie band might appear on a Starbucks advert, or the singer of your favourite ballad may turn out to be revolting womaniser. It's difficult to divorce yourself from the ephemeral magic that you felt when hearing a special song for the first time.

But Keane's next step is a question of integrity. They have done the soft rock thing to death and clearly have the talent to do something genuinely creative outside of their comfort zone. Splitting up might do it, too - but either way it's nice to know they're not actually better than Bastille.