keane08For some rock albums the piano is central. We’ve already referenced David Bowie’s Hunky Dory in this blog. But a much more recent example is Keane’s Hopes and Fears, where the piano sound is integral to the mood and structure of the songs – in fact a conscious decision was made not to use any guitars at all. What piano was it? In fact it was two. Initially Tim Rice-Oxley’s “electric grand piano”, a Yamaha CP70 was used for the demos – the one also used on the band’s live shows. The piano is a hybrid, it has a real action and real strings, but is designed to be portable, so the strings are much shorter and the sound is supplemented by electronics.

However, something more was needed to add to the final mix, and a grand piano in Chris Difford’s Heliocentric Studios in Rye was overdubbed and mixed with the CP70 tracks. It’s not known what make of piano that was, it’s been referred to simply as “the brown piano”. A further adjustment was to run the CP70 through a guitar amp. It gives Hopes and Fears a very distinctive sound, in contrast to most guitar-led rock.

The piano often provides a counterpoint theme or motif to the vocals (as in “Bedshaped”, “Everybody Changes” and “Your Eyes Open”), but it’s also used to provide a strong underpinning of chords to shore up both the rhythm and the harmony (as in “Somewhere Only We Know”, where regular eighth note chords are pounded out throughout the song). On “We Might as Well be Strangers” the same technique is used, but with four, rather than eight chords to the bar. This song follows the classic Keane style, starting softly, building up to a climax and then dropping back down again This is achieved through strong harmonic sequences and a gradual layering of orchestration (synths, not strings here) all leading to an anthemic chorus “We might as well be strangers in another town”, and all intensified further by Tom Chaplin’s soaring vocals.

There are only two tracks where the piano takes a more secondary role. “She Says She Has No Time” foregrounds the synthesizers along with a more obviously electronic piano. It features a simple but beautiful synth solo that sounds as if it’s played on a Rick Wakeman- era instrument – but transcends any technical limitations that might imply. The Beach-Boys influenced “Sunshine” uses the same 1970s glissando-style solo synth with an overtly electric piano to blend in with the layered vocals.