Anniversary Album: 20 Years of ‘Hopes and Fears’ by Keane

Twenty years ago this month, a three-piece band from Great Britain named Keane released its debut album entitled Hopes and Fears. They had been knocking around for almost a decade before getting to that point, had spent almost an entire year of doing nothing on the band front just a year prior to the album’s recording, and featured no guitars on the LP. Not exactly an ironclad blueprint for success.

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Yet here we are, two decades later, and Hopes and Fears stands as one of the most successful and enduring albums from the aughts. Let’s take a look back at how it all happened, and how this album continues to enthrall and enchant its many supporters.

Dashed “Hopes” and Persistence

Keane formed in a town in England called Battle, which was apt because of how they had to battle to get their music heard by a wide audience. Their earliest incarnation formed in 1996, and they endured many fits and starts over the next nine years or so. At different times, what little momentum they had threatened to stall out and end the band completely.

Even when turning points seemed to occur, they were often followed by more struggles. For example, in 2001, guitarist Dominic Scott departed. Tim Rice-Oxley, who had been playing bass, decided to focus on piano as the focal point for the songs he was writing, which would eventually define the band’s sound. But in 2002, Keane spent most of the year on hiatus as they wondered if there was any reason to continue trying to get their big break.

But when the dam finally broke for the band, it did so in a big way. The same record exec who had championed Coldplay happened upon a Keane show when they resumed playing in December 2002. He put out their first single “Everybody’s Changing,” and suddenly they were a hot commodity. With many of the songs already written over the past several years of plugging away, Keane, consisting of Rice-Oxley, singer Tom Chaplin, and drummer Richard Hughes, headed into the studio to record their debut album in the final quarter of 2003.

Writer and Singer Connect

Like all great albums, the success of Hopes and Fears owes a lot to the songwriting. Although all the band members contributed (as did album co-producer James Sankey) in that department, Rice-Oxley was largely responsible for the material on the record. As Tom Chaplin told NME, he was impressed by how much his bandmate had improved as a songwriter when he reconvened with him in late 2003:

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh god, he’s suddenly gone up a level.’ Yeah. I heard everything that he had written and was blown away by it. After two years of working s—-y jobs in London, we moved back to our parents’ houses in the countryside and would meet up and write in Tim’s mum and dad’s house. I remember Tim presenting us with a few of the songs that he’d written that summer. I remember hearing ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ and ‘Everybody’s Changing’ and just thinking, ‘Holy s–t.’”

Ah, “Somewhere Only We Know.” The song that’s scored umpteen commercials and movie trailers, it busted down doors all over the world for Keane. In addition to being a gorgeously romantic composition, it rides high on Chaplin’s acrobatic vocals. And for a band that didn’t have any guitars, the sonic punch that’s delivered when this song pops onto the speakers is awful potent.

Hopes and Fears toggles back and forth between lushly melodic mid-tempo tracks and somber ballads. On the latter front, “We Might As Well Be Strangers” and “She Has No Time” still can induce shivers. And when the band picks up the pace on tracks like “Everybody’s Changing” and “This is the Last Time,” you’ll find yourself getting caught up in the whoosh of it all, even as the natural ache in Chaplin’s vocals adds that lovely bittersweet flavor.

On the glorious closer “Bedshaped,” the narrator address a former friend with a mix of nostalgia and bile. But what do I know? Chaplin queries in the final moments, before answering himself: I know. That mix of homespun modesty and decisive skill carries Hopes and Fears a long way. In fact, it’s carried this stunning debut album for 20 years now, and don’t expect it to stop anytime soon.

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Photo by Samir Hussein/Getty Images

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