Friday, 10 April 2009

Doves - Kingdom of Rust

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.


bobblog 10 April 2009 at 17:14  

Good Review. I've been a fan of Doves ever since day one and I personally think they get better with each album and Kingdom of Rust is their best and most mature offering yet!

William Rycroft 10 April 2009 at 18:50  

Cheers Roberto. Like you I've been with them since the beginning and I think you're probably right about them improving with age (although one would hope so). I see you have received Fever Ray in your latest Rough Trade pack, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

bobblog 10 April 2009 at 19:13  

It's funny that in the '00's most bands (bloc party, Arcade Fire, Clap your Hands Say Yeah, The Rakes and loads of others)would release a sterling debut and not be able to follow it up properly. While in the 90's you would get a mediocre debut but the following albums would improve on it greatly.

Thankfully Doves(and a few others Animal Collective, TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Knife)are part of the latter camp.

Re Fever Ray - I am in love with the album and It's been something i've had on constant rotation. Although I am a Knife fan I find them a teensy bit overrated. Fever Ray, superficially sounds like a continuation of 'Silent Shout' but with further spins it reveals more depth and texture. Marvellous :)

William Rycroft 10 April 2009 at 22:16  

AH, the disappointing sophomore album!. I have several of these, or rather had several, having junked quite a few in my recent house move. I'm not sure I'd lump Arcade Fire into that category though, their second album doesn't have the originality of the first but is still pretty good I think.

You've got me all intrigued by Fever Ray now. After yours and James' comments I feel a purchase coming on...

Demob Happy 13 April 2009 at 10:45  

Hi William,
Liked your review of Kingdom of Rust, and I agree that "Jimi Goodwin's voice might be the deal-breaker". I don't have a problem with his regular singing voice but I think that if he can't achieve some range naturally he should opt for some studio manipulation, or make the vocals less central to the songs.

You mentioned their dance background, and I seem to recall that their first album was more experimental - if hit and miss - and that they became overcommitted to more anthemic music after the success of 'There Goes the Fear' and 'Pounding'.

I'd like to see them do something more off-kilter - which I am sure they are equipped to do. I love the new Super Furry Animals album (I've never been a big fan) because it seemed they really let loose in ways they only ever threatened to do in the past, partly by shifting the focus away from the vocals and treating them on most tracks.

William Rycroft 13 April 2009 at 18:21  

Interesting James. Their first album is much closer to what you're after with the focus on the music and the vocals often treated and in the background. As time has gone by they've become a bit more conventional in the structure of their songs but there are a few hints here and there on the new album that they're looking to experiment again. Going back and listening to their début it stands up remarkably well I think.

bobblog 13 April 2009 at 21:18  

Looking back (my goodness was that nine years ago!) Doves first two albums are a mixture between the anthemic and dancey-ish. With album three there was an emphasis towards the more big tunes. This one as well.

I feel though that later on they will unleash that experimental side of them - they definitely have it.

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