Hometown: Battle, Sussex
Tags: rock, indie, alternative, british, britpop
“From the start the band had been totally idiosyncratic – not part of any scene, not connected to any particular part of the music business – and I think that’s what attracted all us outsiders to them.”
(Adam Tudhope, manager 1998 – present)
Peter Kay recently said:
“Keane have always had the rare ability to produce songs that feel and sound as if we’ve known them all of our lives (so just imagine how good this ‘best of’ is going to be), nothing but wall to wall brilliance that you already know or at least feel you do. First and foremost, I was a fan, being fortunate to see them play live many times over the last ten years (yes ten years!! Where did that go?) and continually they astonish at how much they give. Playing each and every time as if their lives depended on it. If you’ve never seen them live, I urge you to please make the effort. Trust me, it’ll stay with you forever.
Simply, they’re four funny, generous and extremely grounded blokes who still can’t believe their luck and who continually strive for brilliance, but now a decade in it’s time for us to take stock and celebrate just how much their music has shadowed and enriched our daily lives. Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, I give you, the wondrous Keane.”
Not many British bands these days have more than one big-selling album, let alone five. Fewer still manage to replicate – and maintain – that success outside the UK. And only a tiny number are able to continually develop their sound as their career progresses. But, in the last decade, Keane have achieved all of those things and a whole lot more. After selling over 11 million copies of their five consecutive Number One records, with their four award winning albums and their 8 track EP ‘Night Train’, it is no exaggeration to say that Keane are firmly established as one of the world’s most successful, innovative and cherished bands.
When Keane first got together all those years ago, three of the bands they most admired were the Beatles, Radiohead and Blur. What made all of those acts special was that although nobody could ever predict what they’d do next, you knew it would be worth hearing. Over the release of their five albums that’s an exclusive club to which Keane have surely now gained membership.
Tracklisting for ‘The Best Of Keane’ below, revealing the story of one of the biggest bands of the decade;
Track 1. Everybody’s Changing
1997, Battle, Hastings, seaside small-town England. Keane, a struggling trio from the aptly-named Battle, take five years to be discovered “overnight” in December 2002 at the Betsey Trotwood pub, east London, by Simon Williams, founder of the atom-sized though astronomically influential Fierce Panda label. Signed in 2003, that year is dominated by America, a glitzy showbiz caterwaul of Black Eyed Peas, Beyoncé, Avril Lavigne, Justin Timberlake, Eminem and Christina Aguilera. The quintessentially British Keane, by comparison (also championed by Radio 1’s Steve Lamacq) wear their hearts on their vulnerably-fraying sleeves and release debut independent single ‘Everybody’s Changing’ in April 2003 before signing to the mighty Island major and releasing world-class epic piano-rock anthem ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ in early 2004. Debut album ‘Hopes And Fears’ follows, an instantaneous, British rock phenomenon, a soaring rapture of euphoric melancholy which swathes the planet. A UK No.1 album, Keane bloom in a brand new landscape, a post-Britpop era of emotional sensitivity, which dominates the rest of the decade.
“We’re the post-OK Computer generation,” notes Tim Rice-Oxley, Keane’s gifted songwriter, lyricist and pianist, of the ‘97 Radiohead classic. “For me, that was the album of our generation. We’ve grown up appreciating the power of a song that can unlock you. And we’re all men, I guess, who probably wouldn’t otherwise let go. That’s our cornerstone. It’s just good to feel you’re not alone.”
Track 2. Somewhere Only We Know
2006-2012, four more albums, four heroically different directions. Post ‘Hopes And Fears’, Keane detonate their own blueprint. Like Blur and Radiohead, they’ve the confidence to diversify: through ‘Under The Iron Sea’ (2006, portentous document of splintering inter-band relationships), ‘Perfect Symmetry’ (2008, ambitious experiment in conscience-rock and glittering electro-pop, recorded in Berlin), the ‘Night Train’ EP (further sonic experiments and lyrical ennui, recorded on the road) and ‘Strangeland’ (2012, piano-rock progressions on a rousing, reflective sojourn through human relationships and what it means to be 30-something men). ‘The Best Of Keane’, therefore, is more than just a greatest hits (and there’s plenty of them): a compendium of Classic Keane Anthems plus band favourites, fan favourites, live favourites and two new tracks (‘Higher Than the Sun’, ‘Won’t Be Broken’), featuring the stunning hymnal ‘Hamburg Song’ and the glorious reverie ‘My Shadow’. To date Keane have sold over 11 million albums worldwide, their five albums to date consecutive UK No.1s.
“I’m very proud of the variety on the ‘Best Of’,” notes Tim. “You’ve got the Keane anthems, then something like ‘Hamburg Song’ which is deeply emotional. ‘Atlantic’ is weird, sonically ambitious. Same with ‘Spiralling’ (voted 2008 Song Of The Year by Q magazine). ‘Silenced By The Night’ covers my craving for American open highway epic rock songs. It’s hasn’t just been ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ times sixteen. There’s a lyrical reflection of our lives and the way they’ve changed, in a really true way.”
Track 3. Bend and Break
2012, Brazil. Tom Chaplin, a man whose astonishingly powerful archangel vocals puncture the human heart with a shard of purest yearning, awakes in a hotel bed. He’s poleaxed, once again, by the malady which typifies the global touring colossus Keane have long become: stratospheric jet lag. “I had literally no sense of self,” he boggles. “I couldn’t have told you what my name was, what day it was, what year it was.”
Track 4. Bedshaped
700 shows in over 40 countries worldwide. Keane have now played in over forty individual countries: America, Russia, South America, Indonesia, Asia, the Middle East, Australia, Japan, all across Europe, over and over again. In South Korea they’re known as The Autumn Band with all the wistful melancholy, melodic richness and emotional metamorphosis that implies. Their fans unfurl ‘Welcome’ flags in trees outside their hotels, tattoo their art-work and lyrics on their bodies, hold birthday parties in their honour, in Brazil (when they’re not even in Brazil) and send lengthy letters saying their music has “saved my life”. Keane are a universal soul band.
Track 5. This Is The Last Time
2004, Glastonbury. Newly back from their inaugural tour of America, Keane had left a Britain where their biggest-ever show was at The Forum, Kentish Town (capacity 2,000). “We got to Glastonbury and 20 thousand people were singing all our songs, it was electrifying,” beams Tim. “Before that, we had no sense whatsoever what it was like for our music to be everywhere.”
Track 6. Atlantic
2005, Madison Square Gardens, New York City. Keane support U2 over five nights and Larry Mullen Jnr, shows Keane drummer Richard Hughes how he sets his kit up (with a view to minimising injury). “One of my absolute heroes,” marvels Rich. “And I’m sitting at his drum kit, at Madison Square Gardens. Mind-blowing.”
Track 7. Is It Any Wonder?
At the core of Keane lies a precious creative affinity, a vocal gift which interprets emotional music with a stunning synchronicity. “It’s very rare,” notes Tom, “that both a singer and song-writer have that, together.” Tom feels he can sing like this because he battles, as all proper singers do, “insecurity, vulnerability and fear of the world, coupled with the ability to stand in front of thousands of people and pour it all out: those two extremes are the beating heart of most singers”. No wonder fellow artists love them: Paul McCartney, Pharrell Williams, Bono, Lily Allen, John Mayer, Nicole Scherzinger, Chris Martin, Gwyneth Paltrow, Gwen Stefani, Zach Braff, novelist Brett Easton Ellis, Kanye West and Snoop Dogg.
Track 8. Nothing In My Way
April 2013, BBC Radio 2, London. ‘Hopes And Fears’ is voted No.2 in the 100 Favourite Albums Of All Time by listeners of the UK’s mighty Radio 2. Nothing stands in their way (apart from Coldplay at No.1), beating their all-time heroes: Simon & Garfunkel, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, REM, U2, Abba…
“Ten years down the line and our vulnerability has been our saving grace,” decides Tom. “It’s something that can’t be affected by changing fashions. Because that’s a human truth.”
Track 9. Hamburg Song
2008, Germany. Keane love Germany, especially Berlin. “A city which has picked itself up time and time again is so inspirational,” says Tim. “Its history, its creativity, its innovation, its spirit of reconciliation, is also the spirit of the band.” They recorded third album ‘Perfect Symmetry’ at Teldex Studios in Berlin.
Track 10. Crystal Ball
2006 onwards, everywhere. As well as old-school universal songwriters, Keane are new-school pioneers: one of the first bands ever to release a single on a USB stick (‘Nothing In My Way’, 2006): an acoustic gig on the Great Wall of China (in conjunction with the innovative Burberry, 2011): the first band to stream a 3D live show. “Not bad,” notes Rich, “for a band who started out playing The Crypt in Hastings.”
Track 11. A Bad Dream
2005, Helioscentric Studios, Rye, Sussex. Keane record second album ‘Under The Iron Sea’, lyrically much of which is political and social comment on the modern world, songs such as ‘A Bad Dream’ and ‘Is It Any Wonder?’ question the heroics of war. These themes are also present on some of the following album ‘Perfect Symmetry’ in songs ‘Perfect Symmetry’ and ‘Better Than This’ for example. In 2007 the band become War Child ambassadors and curate a night at Brixton Academy in aid of the charity, featuring Pet Shop Boys, Lily Allen and Guillemots amongst others.
Track 12. Try Again
2012, Japan. Tom knows more than most what it’s like to try again. “The good old days didn’t really work for me, “I didn’t really appreciate how brilliant everything was, in the beginning,” muses the ever-philosophical Tom. “I don’t think I was grown up enough, then.” he laughs, over breakfast in Japan. “But now I feel the happiest I’ve ever felt. In my whole life.”
Track 13. Spiralling
From the very beginning. Of a decade’s extraordinary moments, Tim cherishes the ones with his band mates most. “I’ve a photo on my sitting room wall where we’re in Brazil just completely pissing ourselves, basically,” he smiles. “That for me is the ultimate. Such a simple thing. Being with my friends, laughing, a lot.”
Track 14. Perfect Symmetry
Art, always. Keane know how to collaborate, choosing dazzling minds to enhance their singular vision: novelist/force of nature Irvine Welsh (director of the foreboding Atlantic video, 2006), graphic designer Sanna Annukka (the dynamic swirls of the Under The Iron Sea art-work), artist Osang Gwon (the life-size, photo-montage sculptures for the Perfect Symmetry art-work). They’ve met a myriad heroes on what Tom calls “The Celebrity Thrill Ride at Disneyland”. In 2011, a “babbling” Tim met all-time hero Paul Simon two nights in a row, “and his security guard clearly had me earmarked as a potentially dangerous nutter”. In 2011 in Glasgow, they had a backstage photo-op with Paul McCartney, Tim’s greatest hero other than Paul Simon. “We were stood in line and I thought, I’ll let Tim stand next to him,” remembers Jesse Quin, Keane’s live bass player turned full-time member in 2011. “And Paul McCartney shoved him out the way, pulled me next to him and said (comedy Liverpudlian) “us bass players have gorra stick together, man!”. “Tim won’t let me forget it.” In 2010, Tom sang with Queen at the Albert Hall, introduced by Brian May with the words: “No-one’s sung this song since Freddie sang it, because they haven’t been able to.”
Track 15. My Shadow
2004. Novelist William Boyd (currently penning the new James Bond novel) has enjoyed, in Keane, a curiously symbiotic connection: in their early years Keane wrote the song ‘Any Human Heart’, inspired by Boyd’s novel of the same name. Never released, word filtered back to the writer anyway who was newly besotted with ‘Hopes And Fears’, beguiled by Tom’s “ethereal, plangent voice” and Tim’s “melodic generosity that was astounding in contemporary British rock”. William and Tim became friends, by 2012 both individually plundering East Sussex/West Kent for creative inspiration, for the ‘Strangeland’ album and the ‘Waiting For Sunrise’ novel. A short story ensued, named after the ‘Strangeland’ single ‘Sovereign Light Café’ (published on the deluxe CD sleeve-notes). “Keane,” wrote Boyd in a celebratory appraisal in the Guardian in 2012, “are a great British band.”
Track 16. Silenced By The Night
2006/7, Under The Iron Sea Tour, everywhere. Rich sits behind his drum-kit, transfixed, as Tom sings ‘Try Again’, the staggeringly plaintive piano dreamscape which doesn’t require much drumming. “And every night I would almost forget to come back in because I was lost, listening,” he remembers. “Tom just does it night after night, absolutely beautifully. A remarkable singer.”
Track 17. Disconnected
“It sounds pretentious but the whole culture of Keane, to a lot of people, is a vitally positive thing,” decides Tim. “It’s definitely something real. We’re brave and honest in our songs and people respond to that. Whether it’s teenagers grappling with adulthood, people getting divorced, people stuck in war zones, they find, somehow, inspiration and comfort in our music.”
Track 18. Sovereign Light Café
1980s. As kids in the 80s, the boys who would be Keane drank fizzy drinks in the Sovereign Light Café, Bexhill-on-Sea. As men in 2008, they drank fizzier drinks in Schwarzes Café, Berlin, the 24-hour bar where Keane relaxed most nights, sometimes ’til 6am. For the first time in his life, Tim felt he was truly “living the dream”.
Track 19. Higher Than The Sun
November 2013, everywhere. Keane’s first-ever ‘Best Of’ is released this November, both a glorious celebration of one of Britain’s best-loved bands and a soaring testament to the power of melodic rapture. The jury is in: from the magical, perennial alchemy of melancholy and beauty, this is undeniable evidence of Keane’s considerable contribution to the sum of human happiness.
“It’s a classic thing in music, isn’t it?” decides Tim. “All the people I love, most of their songs have a melancholy tint, if not very dark. And yet their music makes you happy. People can get very serious about music. But at Keane gigs, everyone’s smiling. Even if you’re singing about heartbreak, confusion and desperation. Being able to connect with people, that’s really all we care about.”
Track 20. Won’t Be Broken
The Future. As Keane’s five No.1 albums attest, they’ve never faltered. Tim Rice-Oxley remains ambitious, focused, hungry.
“I think there is an undeniable quality to what we’ve achieved so far,” he decides. “But it’s in my nature to also feel that there’s more we could do. One of those great albums of all time which you don’t appreciate until you’re older, with the extra wisdom you don’t have when you’re young. I’ve had my own ups and downs and feel like I’m just approaching the point where I could write an album like that. The richness is beginning to come through.”
“I think we all just want to feel connected, don’t we?” concludes Tom, of the power of Keane’s singularly emotive music. “To the world. To each other. I hope if we’ve done anything we’ve given people a sense that the world is not such a huge scary place as it can sometimes seem. That we are all in it together. To the end. So you might as well try and understand what it is to be a human being, while we’re all here.”