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+ {Tom Chaplin}

Discarding the need for a full-time guitarist (Dominic Scott left in 2001), English gents KEANE have been relatively unique in their quest to be the next COLDPLAY or U2 – at least in terms of a global-conquering unit. Arriving on the scene at a time when Britpop bands were no longer front-page tabloid fodder, the trio immediately won over hearts and minds as their multi award-winning debut album scaled the British charts in 2004. Unbeknown at the time was the group’s several years in their attempts to break through.
Formed in Battle, East Sussex, in 1997 by pianist Tim Rice-Oxley, singer Tom Chaplin, bassist Richard Hughes and the aforementioned guitarist Dominic Scott, they worked together as a covers band, The Lotus Eaters (not The WILD SWANS off-shoot), before trying their hand at self-penned numbers. With Chaplin studying at Edinburgh University, what began as a covers outfit only coalesced into a serious songwriting unit at the turn of the decade when the singer re-joined. Serving as pianist Rice-Oxley’s “write”-hand man until his departure in 2001, Scott picked up credits on a couple of self-distributed singles: `Call Me What You Like’ and `Wolf At The Door’.
Minus their guitarist, KEANE’s sound wasn’t too dissimilar to COLDPLAY, drawing the attention of scribe turned independent Fierce Panda boss, Simon Williams, who’d already helped launched Chris Martin and Co’s career. Williams of course wasn’t wrong, as the chiming, post-millennial melancholia of `Everybody’s Changing’ and `This Is The Last Time’ had the major labels mad-KEANE on their signature.
By late 2003, Island Records had secured their services. They began conquering the Top 10 with the very COLDPLAY-esque, celestial prophecy of `Somewhere Only We Know’. Looking and sounding like the kind of guy who’d find it hard to get served in a pub, the cherub-faced Chaplin was central to KEANE’s appeal, with a voice pitched mournfully somewhere between Chris Martin, THOM YORKE and Morten Harket.
The inevitable re-issue of `Everybody’s Changing’, laid out the red carpet for a chart-topping debut set, HOPES AND FEARS (2004) {*8}; the kind of music for depressed choirboys that so well defined the contemporary music scene of the day. Subsequent singles, `Bedshaped’, and a re-vamped `This Is The Last Time’, only underlined the main songwriting strength of Chaplin & Hughes, which saw the trio pick up a few Brits and an Ivor Novello award the following year.
Gloomier and more electro-fied than its predecessor, sophomore set, UNDER THE IRON SEA (2006) {*7} – and its Top 3 lead single `Is It Any Wonder?’ (ostensibly penned about Old Blighty’s position in the Iraqi War) – consolidated KEANE’s global-wide position as heirs to the COLDPLAY throne. Producer Andy Green was still at the helm, and it was certainly a pity that some of the set’s better songs – including major hits, `Crystal Ball’, `Nothing In My Way’ and `A Bad Dream’ – were camouflaged behind a schmaltzy and sentimental delivery.
The addition of multi-instrumentalist/guitarist Jesse Quin marked a slide into “80s pop” territory on the Jon Brion-produced PERFECT SYMMETRY (2008) {*6}. In the mould of The BLUE NILE, opener `Spiralling’ (the set’s only Top 50 spawn) was hardly ground-breaking, but Chaplin’s effortless high-pitch stood any test of pop-ticity. If one could dissect the old KEANE from the new, the second half freewheeled into their characteristic epic sound, marked by `Playing Along’ and `Love Is The End’.
A band unwilling to let themselves be pigeonholed and parodied by the press and public alike (at least some of them), the quartet took to the studio for mini-set, NIGHT TRAIN (2010) {*6}, accompanied by guest Somalian hip-hop/rapper, K’Naan, and Japanese MC, Tigarah. Hoping to stick their COLDPLAY designs back in the freezer, the No.1 record (only Top 30 in America) was steered towards eclectic upbeat tunes, the playful collaborations involved being `Stop For A Minute’, `Looking Back’ and `Ishin Denshin (You’ve Got To Help Yourself)’.
One can’t think of any other band that has had a consecutive run of five album chart-toppers from debut to current, but KEANE made history courtesy of STRANGELAND (2012) {*6}. Characterised by colossal choruses but relying on a few formulaic flourishes, one was seduced to think of an electro-pop 80s again on a few of the reliable AOR songs; for diversions playlist `Disconnected’, the meditative `Black Rain’ and the melodramatic finale, `Sea Fog’.
With a “Greatest Hits” compilation scheduled for Xmas 2013, KEANE have also stuck out a handful of interesting covers, namely `Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ (ELTON JOHN), `The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ (The WALKER BROTHERS), `She Sells Sanctuary’ (The CULT) and `Under Pressure’ (QUEEN).
Stepping up to the plate while his band KEANE took a well-earned sabbatical, a relapsed but rehabilitated TOM CHAPLIN re-surfaced in October 2016 with his Top 3 debut set, THE WAVE {*7}. It certainly dipped more than a big toe into the choppy seas of the contemporary singer-songwriter market, as most would agree, that on other shores, the Chaplin name was not yet a household one. He’d married in the summer of 2011 and was helping raising his daughter (born in 2014), but a near-death cocaine experience while writing the album led to another anxious time in the priory, leaving him to re-assess his life through his songs. The hardest part was to pick a worthy contender for a hit, but in `Quicksand’, `Hardened Heart’ and the TRAVIS-esque `Still Waiting’ (ditto `Solid Gold’), Tom’s angelic voice still soared from deep within his soul.
If one had ambitious to stay street-cred in the eyes of his peers and, more importantly, his astute fanbase, an Xmas album (as a sophomore set!) was possibly ill-advised. Nevertheless, TOM CHAPLIN’s TWELVE TALES OF CHRISTMAS (2017) {*5} hit the retail sector just in time to get a big hard snowball thrown in its direction. Not at all cheery or full of festive spirit, the log-fire was never stoked on opener `Walking In The Air’ (remember choirboy Aled Jones); or “reindreery” renditions of The PRETENDERS’ `2000 Miles’ and JONI MITCHELL’s `River’. Following on the yellow-snowed footsteps of EAST 17’s `Stay Another Day’, Tom spun his own AOR tunes into the mix, including `Follow My Heart’ and the wrist-cutting `Say Goodbye’.
KEANE’s 7-year itch was scratched away when their “comeback” set, CAUSE AND EFFECT {*6}, fell just short of the No.1 spot (humbug to LIAM GALLAGHER); and therefore a record-breaking consecutive run of six chart-toppers was amiss. Time was indeed a healer as the quartet put aside life’s trials and tribulations (Chaplin conquered his drug addiction and Rice-Oxley’s marriage broke down), so heartache and despair was etched on cathartic cues such as `The Way I Feel’, `I’m Not Leaving’, `Love Too Much’ et cetera. Somehow though, the pensive doom and swoon never quite raised a glass above the parapet, and without a hit in the class of `Somewhere Only We Know’ or `Everybody’s Changing’, the air and grace was lost under a grey cloud.
© MC Strong 2006/ERD // rev-up MCS Aug2013-Sep2019

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