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The Song “Somewhere Only We Know”: Comparative Analysis of Two Versions


Many people grow up listening to popular songs on the radio without paying particular attention to the lyrics and the execution. However, years later, when they hear the familiar melody that was deeply engraved into their memory, they start to contemplate the differences and the meaning behind the song. When compared with another version, some unexpected, concealed elements of the song start to appear as more evident. One of the examples of such comparison is the song “Somewhere Only We Know” written by Keane in 2003 and then covered by Lily Allen for the Christmas commercial in 2013.

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The two versions appear to be drastically different and represent contrasting emotions due to the distinct approaches to the subject and its interpretation. The song’s theme can be summarized by the lyrics “I’m getting tired and I need someone to rely on” (“Keane”). It narrates a story of two people looking back on a relationship they once had and wanting to go back to the blissful space the two enjoyed in the past. Although Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” evokes feelings of excitement about the relationship, Lily Allen’s cover exceeds the original due to the creative risks, simplistic yet powerful instrumentation, and message of nostalgia and intimacy.

The Instrumentation

The most noticeable difference between the two interpretations of the song is instrumentation. As it concerns Keane’s execution, the three-member band performs the songs with a high focus on the piano with an addition of guitar and drums. Lily Allen, on the other hand, concentrates on the vocals and the piano, with occasional violin and bell sounds. Although both versions sound appropriate for the vocals and display a high level of professionalism, their differences in understanding the mood of the song make the cover more appealing.

Keane represents a rock music genre, and the instrumentation that fits the category does not suit the message of the lyrics. The overwhelming and powerful sound of the drums fits a happier situation rather than a nostalgic feeling described in the song. Lines “Is this the place we used to love, is this the place that I’ve been dreaming of?” indicate that the song should make listeners melancholic about looking back at a meaningful and harmonious relationship (“Keane”). The rock arrangement goes against the intimate message of friendship or love and maintains a mood of excitement that clashes with the purpose of the song.

As opposed to the misinterpreted instrumentals of Keane, Lily Allen’s vocals are accompanied by the professional piano performance of Paul Beard and are not overpowered by the music. On the contrary, a piano-dominant melody creates space for Allen’s vocal talent and helps to create an intimate, almost family-like atmosphere that Keane failed to match with rock instruments (“Lily Allen”). Therefore, it can be concluded that one of the most drastic differences, instrumentation, serves as the driving reason for Lily Allen’s cover superiority over the original. It exceeds the Keane’s version due to its focus on vocals, matching the message, and creating an appropriate tone.

Creative Risks

As per the creative risks that the artists have taken, Lily Allen’s version can be considered more creative because of its uniqueness. As per the original song, at the time of creation, it made Keane famous by Best New Artist Grammy Award nomination for their album (“Keane”). As a result, it was featured in multiple movies and became a widely recognized melody. However, as the time passed, the song, though unique from the subject matter point of view and creative at the time, now blends with other pop music and does no longer evoke the feeling of intrigue and interest from the general public.

Lily Allen, on the other hand, shows more creative liberty due to the drastically different approach to the sound, mood, and execution of the piece. Unlike Keane, Lily Allen decided to create a simplistic and calm yet professionally executed melody that does not fit the overall pattern of the majority of pop music one can hear on the radio. As a result, it stands out and draws the attention of the listeners to an already familiar yet distinct song. According to Songfacts, it brought Lily Allen a new wave of popularity by winning a UK Singles Chart (“Lily Allen”). In a way, the fact that the artist used an already well-known song but implemented a creative interpretation makes it captivating. If it would have been a standalone single, the same effect would have been unachievable. However, as a cover of the famous musical piece that added a unique dimension to the meaning of Keane’s original creation, it serves as an attention-grabbing and memorable song.

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Ability to Convey the Message

Given all the points into consideration, it can be argued that the cover of the song by Lily Allen conveys the message of the song more successfully than the original. As the lyrics imply, the initial intent of the song is to portray a place where two people find comfort due to their shared memories and experiences. The songwriter, Tim Rice-Oxley, shared that the song is “about being able to draw strength from a place or experience you’ve shared with someone” which is a feeling that “many people can relate to” (“Keane”). In the Keane’s execution, the intent behind the lyrics is to portray a lively and happy atmosphere that the two people can enjoy and find inspiration in. The emotions, therefore, are communicated through a loud and overly expressive manner, indicating that this feeling of shared bliss is something that people should communicate with others.

While Allen’s approach to the mood of the song differs from the original intent, it creates an additional depth to the lyrics and evokes a different set of emotions. A simplistic, yet professional vocals and instrumentals convey the message of scarcity and uniqueness of the experiences communicated in the song. The lyrics “Is this the place we used to love? Is this the place that I’ve been dreaming of?” suggest that it is about rediscovering the hidden feelings that were enjoyed in the past (“Keane”). Despite its lack of overtly happy atmosphere, Lily Allen’s cover creates a mood of familiarity and warm melancholy that the lyrics imply, conveying a message of sacred experiences that should remain intimate but never forgotten.


In conclusion, although both versions of “Somewhere Only We Know” are remarkable pieces of music, Lily Allen’s cover outshines the original due to its intricate instrumentation, creative interpretation, and added meaning. The original version by Keane displays a powerful musical narrative that expresses excitement and tells a complex story of relatable experiences. However, a newer version by Lily Allen creates an additional depth to the lyrics and provides a more fitting instrumental and creative context for the narration to flourish.

Personal Works Cited

“Keane: Somewhere Only We Know.” Songfacts, 2004, Web.

“Lily Allen: Somewhere Only We Know.” Songfacts, 2013, Web.

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