British emotive-pop trio Keane will finally release their sophomore album, Under the Iron Sea, June 20th. The outfit fronted by the angelic-piped vocalist Tom Chaplin, began work on their latest effort while promoting their 2004 debut, Hopes and Fears. Keane’s songwriter, pianist Tim Rice-Oxley, who typically writes in romantic isolation, found ways to compose on the road.
“I love to write songs on a piano in a little house in the middle of nowhere in the middle of night with a bottle of wine,” says Rice-Oxley. “But when you’re moving from one place to another, you don’t have that luxury. So I had to learn to adjust to writing songs in the back of the bus. That was difficult — but it all came together in the end. The other guys in the band were really helpful. They sensed I was feeling a lot of pressure and tried to take the heat off me.”
Left to do his own thing while the rest of the band promoted Hopes, Rice-Oxley found his mind drifting to surprisingly somber, political themes. While their debut featured the soaring, piano-driven ballad “Somewhere Only We Know,” the new effort’s “Strokes-y” first single, “Is It Any Wonder,” deals with weightier stuff, inspired in part by England’s involvement in the war in Iraq.
“It’s probably the one song on the record that most expresses our dismay and confusion about what it means to be a British citizen, in terms of what our society’s contributing to the world at large,” Rice-Oxley explains. “It’s very hard to make sense of why Britain feels it needs to sign up with George Bush’s attacks on Iraq and the whole Afghanistan thing. It feels like there’s a whole lot of trouble brewing up over Iran, and you just don’t know where it’s going to end. On a personal level, for people of our age, it’s really unsettling.”
Beyond the lyrical content, Keane wanted to push the album’s formal structure, spurred on by rock’s favorite godfather, Bono. Not long after settling into a recording studio last fall, U2 asked them to open for their shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden. While hanging backstage with the legends, drummer Richard Hughes says Bono gave his band some great advice.
“We were talking about making good albums, and he was saying that he thinks that the order of songs and the atmosphere that that creates is undervalued but incredibly important,” Hughes explains. “With that in mind, we did work very hard trying out various track listings and orders of the songs, to get it right.”
Now that the album has taken shape, Rice-Oxley believes that fans of the group’s debut should find Under the Iron Sea a provocative move in another direction. “It does sound really different. We made a point of changing things up,” he says. “We grew up listening to bands like Depeche Mode, the Beatles and the Smiths — people who were always trying to do new things with the set-up they had. We grew up thinking that was what a band was supposed to do.”
Keane are planning to support the release with a handful of intimate gigs in the U.S., with specific dates to be announced shortly. “We’ve got a whole bunch of new songs that really mean a hell of a lot to us,” says Rice-Oxley. “And I think, this time, we’re going to have a lot more fun.”