Does a band cease being original once another that possesses a sound similar—yet completely incidental—to it reaches stratospheric heights? It sure feels that way, as reviews no longer use more popular bands as a reference point but as mechanical comparison to separate chicken from the egg. They don’t ever really get measured on their own individual strengths, only how much they sound like a putative favorite, as if Gang of Four or JAMC represent unquestionable indices.
What’s strange about the manner the Doves’ new album ‘Some Cities’ has been handled is that they’re incessantly being considered Coldplay derivatives (even while Coldplay is a fusion of Buckley and Stone Roses). It’s a dastardly judgment considering how much more complicated The Doves are structurally than Coldplay and how effortlessly ‘The Last Broadcast’ reached heights with which ‘X & Y’ struggled fruitlessly. No matter, both bands were founded in the same year and in the same country, so one is naturally offered great betterment thanks to a far speedier domestic acceptance. Because they got there first, Coldplay was bestowed an original essence.
If any question remained about The Doves being a Coldplay subsidy, you should rest it now. Both ‘Lost Souls’ and ‘The Last Broadcast’ moved on a weightlessness, the latter of an almost spiritual nature as the atmosphere juggled on previous efforts was superbly fixed. ‘Some Cities’ has none of that, basing itself in a condensed world that shares little with both their ephemeral past and as Coldplay scions. Yet their rejection results in a reaffirmation of their mastery, using an album of soot and terrestrial musings to excavate a far more nuanced ascension.
“Some cities crash, some cities heal, some cities laugh, while other cities steal,” sings Jimi Goodwin on the opening title track. The fuzzed guitars never quite gel into the copasetic lock that typified their previous work, but neither is it discordant at all. Goodwin’s vocal styling this time around feels somewhat haggard compared to the dulcet cadence on ‘The Last Broadcast,’ but it’s by no means an aversive change. ‘Some Cities’ bleeds into ‘Black and White Town,’ a romping 4/4 anthem with a repeating piano loop. It’s a speed you’re not accustomed to hearing from the group, Goodwin at one point speaking instead of singing.
What’s curious about those songs, as well as most on the album, is that their employment of seemingly harsh guitar distortions never results in unpleasantness. There’s pressure with each piece of one form or another, but never for the sake of being unpalatable. ‘Snowden’ begins with an acoustic guitar and simple electric guitar plucks until reaching an instrumental refrain. With about 2 minutes left in the song the electric guitar sounds as though it was submerged underground, the low distortion giving it a menace and heft unheard of on previous efforts, while the ominous piano samples undulating throughout ease up towards the end, giving the song a sense of light and placidity.
This paradox they present of a seemingly unfriendly sonic weight leading to a weightless conclusion runs throughout the album in different incarnations as well, like on ‘The Storm,’ its staggered, muffled orchestral sample still reeling you in, or “Someday Soon,” an acoustic piece that breaks into a choral and echo-riddled center. Sure, not all similarities to their previous work are gone. ‘Walk in The Fire’s’ tempo and arrangement is very similar to ‘There Goes The Fear’s’ while ‘Ambition’ could be construed as ‘The Last Broadcast’s’ title track with a slower tempo and a nixed acoustic loop.
But an active desire to reference the group’s archive for a qualitative opinion misses the point. Such referencing only abets critical indolence, whether it be trying to find a common thread unifying all three of their albums or positing them as lesser gods of a specific (and artificial) pantheon. The only measure necessary is an active, open listen to their presentation. ‘Some Cities’ finds The Doves at yet another fine apex, caring little about what skies they may have fallen from and instead the city skyline they wish to describe.
Release date: March 1, 2005
Rating: 9.1 / 10
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