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‘Under The Iron Sea’: Inside Keane’s Introspective Sophomore Set

Though darker than the all-conquering ‘Hopes And Fears’, Keane’s second album was no less compelling.

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Cover: Courtesy of Island Records

After five years of false starts and struggles, Keane’s fortunes turned around dramatically when their 2004 debut Hopes And Fears topped the U.K charts and introduced the band to stardom. However, this initial triumph soon turned to turmoil as the British trio began work on its sophomore set Under The Iron Sea.

“We weren’t having the time of our lives,” vocalist Tim Chaplin confessed in a 2020 YouTube retrospective. “It was a difficult period. I was having a lot of problems adjusting to life in the spotlight. Having thought it would be the answer to all my problems, all fame did was actually shine a light on them. Also, our relationship as a band was strained and you can hear that in the songs. [Under The Iron Sea] was a much darker, introspective record.”

Listen to Keane’s Under The Iron Sea now.

Under pressure to produce new material following the world tour in support of Hopes And Fears, Keane did at least have a stockpile of new songs to fall back on. To his credit, keyboardist and primary songsmith Rice-Oxley also knew Keane couldn’t play it safe and make a second Hopes And Fears. Accordingly, he made a concerted effort to expand on the band’s signature sound by adding an old, slightly distorted electric piano to his battery of keyboards and produced fresh sonic textures through experiments including putting synths through vintage guitar effects pedals.

Keane - Atlantic (Video)

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In advance PR for Under The Iron Sea, the band suggested they had been writing, singing, and performing with a new “drive, intensity, and fury,” and that was largely borne out by the contents of the record. Tracks such as the chilly, Radiohead-esque first single “Atlantic” and the instrumental title track were brooding, filmic affairs, while more linear, rock-based numbers such as “Leaving So Soon?,” and the U2-ish “Put It Behind You” were notably more muscular in design than anything Keane had released before. Sensibly, though, the band stopped short of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Indeed, the likes of “Crystal Ball,” “Nothing In My Way,” and the glorious, hymnal “Hamburg Song” were all vintage Keane songs, all coming across like logical successors to Hopes And Fears’ highlights.

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In most respects, though, Keane’s desire to take risks paid dividends. Under The Iron Sea moved around three million copies worldwide, topped the U.K. charts and went Top 5 on North America’s Billboard 200. It also attracted several excellent reviews, not least the Irish Times’ enthusiastic missive which cogently observed that “there is much in the themes of emptiness and self-doubt to suggest a band well beyond post-pubescent choirboys. Difficult second album? No way. A dark and surprising return.”

“The first album was quite romantic and also pretty sparse, whereas [Under The Iron Sea] was super dark, layered and soundscape-y,” Tim Rice-Oxley said, reflecting on this underrated album in 2020. “At the time, it was difficult being involved in it, but it was a record that was a real contrast from the first one. In the long run, it was good for us to have done something different.”

Listen to Keane’s Under The Iron Sea now.

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