This is the Last Time? – A Retrospective on Keane

By on Friday, 25th October 2013 at 5:00 pm
 

Last Sunday, through MTV, Gigwise, NME and other media channels, came the news that after 16 years of being together, Keane had decided to call it a day. I feel pretty bad now, having slagged off their latest single here on TGTF and having Steve Lamacq read out during Roundtable this Tweet in which I called it “lacklustre”. Kidding aside, maybe I had foreseen this media firestorm that would take place in 2 weeks’ time. We’ve been told that frontman Tom Chaplin wants to embark on a solo career, and principal band songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley plans to collaborate on songwriting with today’s pop stars, having previously worked with No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani on ‘The Great Escape’ song ‘Early Winter’ and Kylie Minogue on ‘Everything is Beautiful’ from her 2010 album ‘Aphrodite’. Confusingly, a couple days later, Chaplin himself tried to explain that their plans were instead to go on temporary hiatus while band members worked on their own projects. This left me wondering, are there plans to “let’s go out while we’re on top”? This also has made me ponder, artistically, has Keane’s journey run its course?

Sixteen years does seem like a very long time to be together, and in Keane’s case, they haven’t terribly prolific – besides a couple of EPs, the band only put out four full-length albums. But this is right in line with the band that would prove to be their rivals for throughout their career. I am, of course, talking about Coldplay, the other massive English stadium piano rock band. This seems to not be as common knowledge as I thought, but it should be: when Keane’s principal songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley was still at University College of London, he was approached in 1997 by then unknown musician Chris Martin, who asked him to join his new band. Had Rice-Oxley taken him up on the offer, there might never have been a Keane at all. Imagine how different the musical landscape today would be if he’d agreed. Thankfully, he said no, saying he wanted to stay with his then band The Lotus Eaters and in a flurry of subsequent action, Tom Chaplin was drafted to come in as lead vocalist. Thus Keane was born.

As they are for most fledgling bands, the early days for Keane were hard. Founding member Dominic Scott left in 2001, disheartened by the band’s lack of progress. Had it not been for Fierce Panda Records head honcho Simon Williams, who just happened to see the band perform in London the following year, Keane might not have gone anywhere. Williams, having seen promise in Coldplay several years prior, agreed to put out their first commercial single, ‘Everybody’s Changing’, which then caught the ears of one Steve Lamacq, who at the time was still on Radio1. When Keane started getting popular here in America, I avoided them like the plague. What a snooze! ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ seemed to be on the radio every single time I switched it on, and it drove me crazy. ‘Is It Any Wonder?’ got on my nerves. Who is that guy singing? Man, that delivery’s annoying.

I later ate my words when I fell in love with Chaplin’s voice and Rice-Oxley’s songwriting. And this happened with third album ‘Perfect Symmetry’, which would be the album that made me want to even go near them. Making synthesisers and guitars more prominent in their sound caught my eyes and ears: was this really the same Keane that was putting out that dirge ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ and that annoyance ‘Is It Any Wonder?’ that I couldn’t stand? And yet, surprisingly, it was. It was from there that I went backwards in time, to come to know and love ‘Hopes and Fears’ (and ‘Under the Iron Sea’ to a much lesser extent) and Keane became an important part of my life.

When my heart got broken for the second time, Chaplin sang to me, “this is the last time, the last time I will show my face / one last tender lie, and then I’m out of this place”, and I felt he knew my pain. Like many of the bands I like, I think some of their lyrics have been horribly misunderstood. I interpret ‘This is the Last Time’ as a cry for help from someone contemplating suicide. Some people seem to think that because Keane are a mainstream band, that means their lyrics must be throwaway and aren’t anything important. No. You just haven’t been looking hard enough, people. I know for me and many Keane fans out there, the band and their songs have been there for us when we needed them. We are the people who took to social media immediately on Sunday morning and were taking this break-up news the hardest.

While in shock from hearing the news Keane were splitting up, I joked on Twitter, why couldn’t it have been Coldplay instead? Don’t ask me why, but except for ‘The Scientist’, Martin’s words don’t do a thing for me. For the better part of the last 2 decades, and rather unfairly in my opinion, Keane and Coldplay have been lumped together because they share that one major, distinguishing characteristic: using a piano as the lead instrument in their songs. It’s my understanding that the two bands are of similar stature in the UK when it comes to fan and mainstream popularity, where their label of stadium piano rock is most appropriate.

Inexplicably, Coldplay is far and away much more massive than Keane is here in America. I really don’t really get it. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. Tom Chaplin’s voice can run circles around Chris Martin’s, with the ability to transform chameleon-like from gorgeously tender, to hauntingly emotional, to sweepingly grand in a chorus all in the same song. The existential musings on the digital world offered up in third album title track ‘Perfect Symmetry’ couldn’t have been written by anyone else but Tim Rice-Oxley. For me, Keane was always the complete package: beautifully sung vocals by Chaplin, in the backdrop of Rice-Oxley’s amazing songwriting, with perfectly matched drums and percussion from Richard Hughes and later, guitars from touring band member and Rice-Oxley’s Mt. Desolation compadre Jesse Quin.

But Keane was not without some career stumbles. The ‘Night Train’ EP of 2010 saw the band try to spread their wings even further beyond their unusual MOR style. Much credit needs to be given for them trying to branch out into rap, collaborating with Somali-Canadian rapper K’Naan on single ‘Stop for a Minute’, the video of which had me spellbound as I watched it off a bar’s television on a street in Copenhagen, and even crossing cultural borders in ‘Ishin Denshin’, working with Japanese rapper Tigarah in what ended up being an embarrassing experiment. Latest album ‘Strangeland’ disappointed critics, only receiving average reviews; even I thought it was an uneven effort, featuring great singles but containing mostly with filler. Still, fans ate it up and bought it in droves. And as always, the same fans saw them in huge numbers on tour.

The last time (no pun intended) I saw them gig was on the Strangeland North American tour of 2012. They sounded brilliant as always. Ever the showman, Chaplin and his charisma grabbed hold quickly to the audience’s attention and never let go of the entire hour and a half they played. Even if their last two studio albums were less than stellar and for some reason they don’t even return to the stage as a live band, the experience of seeing them will always be remembered as something very special. I will always treasure being mere feet away from Keane, down the front for an intimate appearance at Cedar Street Courtyard during my first SXSW in 2012. Never would I imagine a year and a half later, we’d be talking about their potential demise. Whatever happens, guys, we will be missing you.

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6 Responses

5:01 pm
25th October 2013

New post: This is the Last Time? – A Retrospective on Keane @keaneofficial: http://t.co/QA81xVtC19

5:02 pm
25th October 2013

RT @tgtf: New post: This is the Last Time? – A Retrospective on Keane @keaneofficial: http://t.co/QA81xVtC19

5:03 pm
25th October 2013

so Keane say they’re going on hiatus. likely story. I contemplated whether their artistic journey has run its course: http://t.co/pnjyu9aUPQ

8:08 pm
25th October 2013

RT @tgtf: New post: This is the Last Time? – A Retrospective on Keane @keaneofficial: http://t.co/QA81xVtC19

[…] break and concentrate on their own project. Likely story, Tom. (I wrote a retrospective on the band here for TGTF.) More likely, they will only return to roll out the singles on a gurney for a greatest hits tour, […]

[…] how this single from The Courteeners comes along just shortly after Keane announced they had decided to go on hiatus. ‘Are You in Love with a Notion?’, the opening track of the Manchester band’s […]

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