Keane Nearly Followed Breakthrough With A Breakup

Piano rockers persevered, however, to finish second LP, Under the Iron Sea.

After breaking through to the big time with their debut, Hopes and Fears, Keane took a rather unique approach to recording album number two: They almost broke up.

For a few tense months late last year, Keane as we know them nearly ceased to exist. Almost two years of steady touring behind Hopes — followed by an immediate trip back into the studio to begin work on the follow-up (see “Keane Gearing Up To Record New LP, Tour Their Fingers Off” ) — had left the bandmembers battered, beaten and, well, tired of each other.

“We had been through some big highs and big lows over the past two years, from playing Live 8 and Radio City Music Hall to being on a bus together, wanting to kill each other or escape from each other,” keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley sighed. “If we had any sense, we would’ve taken a break, but we had this great idea to take all those emotions and head directly into the studio, and, well, it got really, really intense for a while.”

It was so intense, in fact, that Rice-Oxley and drummer Rich Hughes seriously believed the band was kaput. Neither of them was communicating with frontman Tom Chaplin, and in late October they went to producer Andy Green and told him they feared the end was nigh. Making the record, it seemed, was tearing the band apart.

“It got to the point where I was afraid that I would have to wake up the following morning and think about what I was going to do next,” Rice-Oxley said. “To suddenly realize that everything was disappearing was incredibly frightening. We all loved the music we were making so much, but when you’re dealing with things that were really personal to all of us, when you immerse yourself in the emotions we were writing about, it can’t help but bring up bad things.”

Rather than take the Metallica route (attend group therapy, bring in a big-money “performance coach” to work things out; see “Documentary Probes The Drama Behind Metallica’s Anger ), Keane decided to do things a “typical, English kind of way:” They just got back to work.

“I just went back into the studio in a daze, and we kept working. We certainly did lots of talking, but basically we just put our heads down and plowed through,” Rice-Oxley laughed. “And slowly we all realized that none of us wanted this band to end. We were willing each other on, and it was shaky for a bit until we realized that the album was the most amazing thing we’d ever done. We had sort of inadvertently created this ruthlessly honest look at where we were at mentally.”

The end result of all that turmoil is Under the Iron Sea (due June 20), a dark, complex album that sounds very much like the personal journal of a band on the brink. Lyrically, Chaplin exposes a level of self-doubt that’s nearly unheard of among rock frontmen (on “Hamburg Song” he sings, “I don’t want to be adored/ Don’t want to be first in line/ Or make myself heard”), and musically Rice-Oxley and Chaplin create grandiose yet fragile soundscapes reminiscent of David Bowie’s introspective 1977 album, Low.

But are the band’s fans willing follow Keane into the darkness? Rice-Oxley hopes so, but after the two years he and his bandmates have been through, you can forgive him if he’s not exactly wringing his hands over the answer.

“We’re really good now. We went through all that, and we all realized we created something great together. We’ve learned that we have some sort of mysterious chemistry, and we’ve got to cling on to that,” he said. “That excitement about making music together has been rejuvenating. And now people are hearing it and being excited. It makes you feel good about what you’re doing. And we haven’t felt that way in a while.”

Track list for Keane’s Under the Iron Sea, according to Interscope:

  • “Atlantic”

  • “Is It Any Wonder?”
  • “Nothing in My Way”
  • “Leaving So Soon?”
  • “A Bad Dream”
  • “Hamburg Song”
  • “Put It Behind You”
  • “The Iron Sea”
  • “Crystal Ball”
  • “Try Again”
  • “Broken Toy”
  • “The Frog Prince”