In the years since the release of their 2004 debut, "Hopes and Fears," with its massive crossover hits "Somewhere Only We Know" and "Everybody's Changing" it's become easy to point to what you might call the Keane sound: Plaintive piano pop, melodramatic ballads reaching for the cheap seats and more often than not, landing. You might also call it middling dreck, depending on your taste. But their past two releases, 2010's "Night Train" EP, and 2008's "Perfect Symmetry" were slight detours for the U.K. hit-makers, with the former experimenting with more complex rhythms and percussion, and the latter leaning into a careening new wave and synth-driven pop-funk synths.
This year's "Strangeland," which came out last month and became the band's fifth No. 1 album, is something of a return to form. It has a relatively stripped-down sound: Romantic piano ballads and heart-on-sleeve crooning characterized by singles like the pleading, pretty "Silenced By the Night."
"I think we definitely went on a bit of a journey with 'Perfect Symmetry' and 'Night Train,' and that was fun and exciting, but I sort of felt as a writer that I was missing something by the end of that process," songwriter and pianist Tim Rice-Oxley explains.
In the interim he worked on a side project with Keane bassist Jesse Quin called Mt. Desolation.
"It had more of a country vibe,"?he says. "The songs I wrote for that were much more emotional. I found it satisfying, and wanted to reconnect with that kind of writing."
The latest Keane album, he says, was an attempt to "get in touch with something directly emotional without being sort of arty and obtuse."
The album was recorded at Rice-Oxley's own studio, which provided plenty of time for trial and error: He wrote some 80-90 songs before winnowing it down. The return to the rural was beneficial for his process, he says. "I just moved back down to the countryside a couple of years ago near where we grew up. It's a lovely little town, rural and tucked away, isolated from all the hubbub of the music business and everything else. It's good for us to be able to hunker down, be a gang, and not be distracted, he explains. "I find it important to lock myself away and really focus on stuff. I find I think really clearly in the countryside. I find the city inspiring, but I feel like I connect with something in my core when I'm back in the country under the open sky."
'Great bands come out of small towns'
"We all grew up in small, reasonably rural towns, and I think that effects your way of looking at the world. Traditionally, a lot of great bands come out of small-town life, and the feeling of being a little on the outside, looking in, especially in the U.K. ... I think the themes of the album are quite philosophical, I suppose. I think being close to nature and seeing things in a wider context - we're always thinking the throng of the city is all that matters - I think that affected the writing and the sound, as well."