Not many British bands these days have more than one album, which sells a million copies, let alone three. 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 10 million copies of their three award-winning albums, it's no exaggeration to say that Keane are firmly established as one of the world's most successful, innovative and cherished bands. And, as far as they're concerned, they're only just getting started.
The three members of Keane - Tom Chaplin, Tim Rice-Oxley and Richard Hughes - began making music together as teenagers in sleepy East Sussex. But it was only after years of energy-sapping dead ends that things started to go right for them. After a chance gig sighting in 2003, Fierce Panda founder Simon Williams offered the band a limited edition single release. That quickly led to a deal with Island Records, which led to Hopes And Fears, Keane's brilliant 2004 debut album. Driven by literate, heart-tugging anthems like Somewhere Only We Know, Everybody's Changing and Bedshaped, the record catapulted Keane to global success, selling almost six million copies and picking up countless awards (indeed, even in 2010 it has been nominated for the Best British Album of 30 Years award at the Brits).
In 2006, Keane released their second album, Under The Iron Sea. Compared to their debut, it was a dark, brooding affair, powered by the hurt and frustration of a band stretched to breaking point by two years of constant touring. But, once again, at its core were Tim Rice-Oxley's majestic melodies and Tom Chaplin's rich, powerful voice. The incredible response to the record at the band's increasingly large live shows was, ultimately, to reinvigorate the friendships they've shared since primary school.
Keane's third album, Perfect Symmetry, followed in 2008, once again marking a genuinely impressive stylistic shift. Recorded in Berlin, Paris and London it was the first Keane album to feature musical saw, saxophone and vocals recorded through a drum. In other words, it was the sound of a band positively revelling in the joys of making music again. Its lead single, Spiralling, was a bouncing, Bowie-tinged, synth-pop belter, which won the Q Award for Best Track of the Year before the album itself was even released (once it was, Q's readers soon voted that Album of the Year too.)
The band toured Perfect Symmetry around the world, playing to packed arenas in 28 countries, from Russia to Australia, Colombia to South Korea and Lebanon to Switzerland. When they had gaps in their schedule, they would head into studios to work on tracks - not with any particular purpose in mind, just because it's what they enjoy doing most. "It's incredibly refreshing in the middle of a long tour to go into a studio and create something," says Tim Rice-Oxley. "It's what we ended up doing on most of our days off."
Those tracks would eventually come to form a new eight track album, Night Train, which will be released on Cherrytree/Interscope Records on May 11th in the U.S. Taking its title from the band's favoured mode of transport during the tour (the Moscow to St Petersburg train was particularly memorable), it demonstrates yet another sure-footed sonic swerve. Highlights include Keane's two genre-busting collaborations with fast-rising Somali/Canadian rapper K'Naan, who they met through a mutual appreciation (Keane are surprisingly popular in hip hop circles, with Kanye West another big fan). Over three days in a London studio, Keane and K'Naan created the irrepressible Stop For A Minute and the Rocky-inspired Looking Back. "I think those tracks show us in a completely different light," says Chaplin.
Another definite standout on Night Train is Ishin Denshin (You've Got To Help Yourself), an addictive electro-pop cover of the Yellow Magic Orchestra song which features Japanese baile funk MC Tigarah. "That song pretty much exemplifies the way we did the record," explains Rice-Oxley. "I worked on the original idea on a plane, Richard recorded the drums in DC, Tom did his vocals in Copenhagen, Tigarah did hers in LA and we finished it off on the tour bus. And I'm hugely pleased with the end result."
Night Train also includes the gorgeous, 80s-flavoured Your Love, which hangs around a rare lead vocal from Rice-Oxley, a man more renowned for his Ivor Novello-winning song writing than his singing. "All of these songs were recorded with a spirit of 'Why not?’" he says. "We didn't labour over making this record, or worry about it, we just enjoyed experimenting with things."
The result is another Keane record that's surprising, challenging and imaginative - but still built around tunes you'll be whistling for weeks. 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. With the release of Night Train, that's an exclusive club to which Keane have surely now gained membership.