After 20 years together, and 12 years after their debut album Hopes And Fears, it seems that Keane have embarked on that most modern of phases: the ‘indefinite hiatus’. Although some deemed them a byword for ‘bedwetter music’, it was undeniable that Tim Rice-Oxley knew how to pen a soaring tune. Somewhere Only We Know, Is It Any Wonder and especially Spiralling were genuine pop classics, which only made it sadder to see them limp to an apparent stop with the very lukewarm Strangeland album.
For those who think lead singer Tom Chaplin‘s debut solo album will be more of the same, think again. Of course, Chaplin only ever sang songs written by Rice-Oxley, and this is the first example of his songwriting prowess. And, it turns out, the boy can write. While nothing on The Wave is dramatically different to his erstwhile band’s old material, Chaplin has created a set of intensely personal, surprisingly dark but ultimately uplifting songs.
Most of The Wave has been inspired by Chaplin’s battles with drink and drugs, and his multiple stays in rehab. Keane’s reputation never really recovered from a joke that Kasabian‘s Serge Pizzorno made claiming he was being treated for an addiction to port, but the truth was far darker – it turns out that he nearly died last year after a particularly heavy cocaine binge. It means that opening track Still Waiting has a darker tone than you’d expect, with its talk of a “boy buried under rubble” and that Hardened Heart becomes an impossibly poignant confessional (“How I wish I was not hurting everyone I know”).
Matt Hales (otherwise known as Aqualung) is on production duties for The Wave and has created a sound for Chaplin that’s not too removed from Keane, but still manages to push the envelope a bit. I Remember You is possibly the peppiest Chaplin’s ever sounded, even taking into account the rather jarring saxophone solo that brings the song to a halt, and Solid Gold even swerves slightly towards Americana with some lilting harmonies from Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek. Most impressive of all though is the title track, where Hales and Chaplin build up a wall of orchestration underneath that famous vocal.
Understandably though, Chaplin sounds most at home with the soaring choruses that made his name – Bring The Rain is an album highlight, a properly cathartic roar into the darkness, and Hold On To Our Love is a devastatingly pretty little piano ballad dedicated to Chaplin’s wife and daughter. The only problem is that the album as a whole does begin to sound rather formulaic, with Quicksand and See It So Clear sounding far too much like what’s gone before to make much of an impression.
Yet that doesn’t stop The Wave from being a brave and touching album for the most part – it will obviously appeal to most long-term Keane fans (even without Rice-Oxley’s trademark tinkly piano chords) but anyone who’s gone through a bit of a tough time in their lives will find this to be comforting succour.