Ok, let's get the obligatory mention out of the way. Like Elbow, Doves are one of those bands that have toiled away producing fine albums of indie music with a nice dark hue, albeit with perhaps more chart success than the recent Mercury winners. They've never exactly oozed charm and dynamism however and it has been four years since their last release so I did wonder whether there was going to be room left for them in the music scene or if they might just be able to pull off an Elbow-style moment of triumph themselves, vindicating their fans' loyalty. I have no idea whether Kingdom Of Rust will prove to be the album that brings them recognition but it is certainly another strong collection of songs that draws on all their strengths, pushing a few new buttons along the way.
Their past as dance outfit Sub Sub has meant that they always know how to structure a song or build up a tune to maximum effect (listen to Pounding for example). The album opens with Jetstream which draws on those skills and puts the dance influences closer to the forefront, with industrial sounding lyrics to match. It's a strong opening which is followed by the far more familiar sounding title track. Jimi Goodwin's plaintive vocals conjure images of 'cooling towers' and snow covering 'The road back to Preston'. Eee, it may be grim up north but he makes it sound soulful, the melody picked out clearly by a piano with backing strings and skiffle like drums. The attempt to try something new begins The Outsiders with some horrible sounding keyboard arpeggios from a 70's sci-fi programme, which are followed by power guitars, but you can't deny the energy that runs through it.
Winter Hill plays safe with pretty standard lyrics of parting and return sung in the kind of vocal combination that has worked so well for the Gallagher brothers. Similarly 10:03 begins simply enough, a tale of homecoming sounding like the kind of Northern Blues that Richard Hawley has made his own before it suddenly builds into a crazy Who-like crescendo. Spellbound begins sounding exactly like a track from their first album but then develops into something really interesting, thick with layers of music and dark vocals 'She keeps me near so spellbound/Her love pulls me near to stranger ground /I lost my mind there/This dark magic mirror/Spellbound.'
The funky slapped bass and 80's sound of Compulsion won't be to everyone's taste, it certainly had me wrinkling my nose as if I'd walked into a bar on a themed evening of big hairdo's and lurid cocktails (the feeling was swiftly stamped away by the harsher sound of House of Mirrors). Lifelines closes the album on a far more positive note, complete with choir backing. Even the sun is in the sky. Who said it's grim up north!
I think I may have said something similar in my review of Elbow but Jimi Goodwin's voice might be the deal-breaker. Some people love it, some think it's a bit dull. It certainly doesn't vary much and that along with the slightly samey feel of some of the songs is what stops me from employing any triumphant hyperbole when describing this album. But it's certainly worth a listen and a good deal better than a lot of what's out there. The more I listen, the more I like it, and there's nothing quite like a grower.