Cities 97 and City Pages present KEANE
As problems go, this is among the nicer ones. Tim Rice-Oxley clicks a playlist on his iTunes folder. This is where all the contenders for the final tracklisting of Keane’s new album sit in quarantine. Over the past few months, band members have made the case for their favourites; friends have chipped in with their opinions. But, as the band gather round Tim’s computer, another click takes us to the twelve songs that comprise Keane’s fourth album Strangeland. “Everyone happy with that?” says the group’s main songwriter. It feels a little bit like the point in the marriage vows where onlookers are asked to name any lawful impediment to the imminent declaration of marriage. “Well, that was easy,” says Keane’s frontman Tom Chaplin, albeit with a blinking incredulity that suggests nothing in life is quite that straightforward.
Indeed not. Four years have elapsed since Keane’s last album Perfect Symmetry; two since Night Train, the mini-LP which followed its three full-length predecessors to the top of the British album charts, securing them a place in pop history. If Keane’s feverishly loyal fanbase wondered what the group’s next album would sound like, they weren’t the only ones. In the eight years following the release of 2004’s 9× platinum Brit award winning Hopes & Fears, every Keane album has marked a clear progression from the previous one: the anxious emotional terrain mapped out by Under The Iron Sea; the iridescent poptimism of Perfect Symmetry featuring the electro charged hit song 'Spiralling', voted Q Magazine’s 2008 Song Of The Year. But what next? It was a question that Tim had asked himself from time to time. “I felt that on Perfect Symmetry, I had allowed myself to get as excited by textures as much as the actual songwriting. In the wake of that, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it is that makes a song magic.” On so much of Strangeland, we find ourselves in the company of adults attempting to make sense of their present situation. Life gets better, the human attachments you make grow deeper and, along the way, ambitions are realised. Lest we forget, ten years ago, Keane without a record deal, living and rehearsing in a shared space in Tottenham.
Suggest to new member Jesse Quin (bass) that it must have been daunting to join the ranks of a three-piece comprised of lifelong friends and he shrugs in a manner that suggests it hasn’t been playing on his mind. For Richard, the difference made by Jesse’s arrival has been huge. “I love having Jesse in the band. It feels like we’re a proper rhythm section.” Tom extends the same welcoming sentiment to the album’s producer Dan Grech. “The sense of rejuvenation on these songs suggested to us that it would be good to hook up with someone who was young and full of ideas. And with Dan, we got exactly that. He’d just come from working with The Vaccines and Lana Del Rey, and he was clearly on a roll.” Richard picks up the thread, “The fact is that so many things came together for this album. As well as having Dan and Jesse on board, Tim had finished building his studio. And that makes such a huge difference. Suddenly, you’re not watching the clock the whole time. It’s far more conducive to creativity.”
And with that release of pressure, Strangeland saw the notion of fun resurface in the shared world of Keane in a way that it hadn’t quite done since the sessions for Hopes & Fears. Richard casts an eye behind him at the rolling Sussex scenery that encircles the studio Keane have called home for the last few months. “In many respects, it feels like the completion of a circle. On the album you have songs that draw upon the experiences we used to share as kids, growing up in Battle. You can never really go back, of course. We’re married. Some of us have kids. Once in a while though, after a good day, we’ll go to the local pub and talk about everything and nothing until it’s time to go home. Whatever it is that makes us Keane – that invisible glue – is still there. And you can hear it all over Strangeland.”
Sometimes, you’ll shine the brightest during your darkest hour. That’s exactly what longtime friends multi-instrumentalist Simon Katz and singer Sam Martin came to realize when they commenced writing songs for what would become Youngblood Hawke’s self-titled debut EP. Katz and Martin had seen critical acclaim and worldwide success as founding members of Iglu & Hartly. However, after a rousing performance at Coachella 2010, the group dissolved due to a creative clash. “We went from massive success to nothing over the course of two years,” recalls Katz.