The fantasy of starting again made Paul McCartney turn up on college campuses asking if his new band Wings could get a gig, and Stephen King publish books as Richard Bachman. Keane's songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley hasn't quite gone that far with his new country band Mt Desolation. Still, he is stretching himself beyond Keane's stadium confines.
Mt Desolation has become a collective home for busman's-holidaying members of Mumford & Sons, The Killers and others on the album out next month. But the real itch Rice-Oxley meant to scratch was to sing his own songs, without angel-voiced childhood friend Tom Chaplin to take the strain. The big disappointment is that Keane bassist Jesse Quin has become the main vocalist, with Rice-Oxley still stuck behind his keyboards and letting loose with his far richer tenor too little.
Still, you can tell by his grin that Rice-Oxley feels released. The home counties country of Mt Desolation's songs, too, gets close to the heart of his art. "Bridal Gown"'s regret at the passing of irrecoverable romantic possibilities is a small, aching classic. And through the "whiskey lake" and train tracks of these lyrics, "Coming Home" shows Rice-Oxley will always circle through the big country back to his Sussex front room. "Your urge to move will relent... we're all coming home in the end" is a deeply felt sentiment of conservative comfort rock songwriters don't often admit to. "Departure" suggests this impulse ends in death. The slow-motion, melancholy melody of "State of Our Affairs", meanwhile, shows Rice-Oxley's pop craft remains on songs that already nag familiarly.
Many bands would kill for his clean-cut handsomeness and strong, warm voice. But he found his real frontman when he met Chaplin, and looks happy to bounce at his keyboard, lost in music made with no expectations. Keane will be better when he's back.