Some Cities, the Doves’ third and newest album, brings to mind a really
good Doves tribute band, if one yet exists. The songs are so raw, so
un-Doves-like, that they would make more sense coming from a well-meaning bar
band who adores the Manchester trio but doesn’t have the ability to duplicate
their epic soundscapes, yet succeeds at capturing their spirit. It’s a rough
shift in dynamic, and one that most fans of the former Sub Sub would not expect.
But the key is that the spirit is intact; the songs may not be as lush, but the
sense of grandeur is alive and well.
Not that you would know that from the opening/title track, though. Not only does
it lack any of the Doves’ trademark characteristics, it sounds as if lead singer
and bassist Jimi Goodwin stepped aside and let Gene’s Martin “Roz” Rossiter take
a whack at it, signature vibrato in full swing. “Black and White Town”
definitely rings the bell, though, following in the soul-influenced roots of
“Pounding” from their great 2003 album The Last Broadcast.
The left-right-left punch of “Snowden,” “The Storm” and “Walk In Fire” is where
the album truly takes off. “Snowden” may be the most lo-fi thing the Doves have
ever done, but it’s no less dreamy, with a monster Theremin-type hook. “The
Storm” is one of their prettiest yet darkest ballads yet. Having the string
section skip like the sampled sound it is makes it more human somehow. The
harmonica solo at the break is utterly heartbreaking.
And then there’s “Walk in Fire.” This album’s equivalent to Last Broadcast’s
superb “There Goes the Fear,” “Fire” starts with a simple jangle guitar line,
anchored by a big drum beat, but then there are sirens, magnificent harmonies,
and the kind of chorus that builds cities. Majestic, powerful stuff.
That is by no means the artistic end of the album, though. “One of These Days”
is as catchy as minor key songs come, propelled by an insistent snare drum beat.
Shhhh! The chords actually borrow quite liberally from “Hotel California,” yet
the songs have nearly nothing in common. A fine bit of theft if ever there was
The UK rock scene is suffering from a lack of identity. The Britpop/90s bands
are all folding like cheap card tables (Blur, Oasis, Radiohead, the jury is
still out on Supergrass), while their successors have not officially wrestled
control away from their elders (Coldplay, Muse, Keane, the jury is still out on
Travis). What the scene needs is some stability to carry them through the
transition of power. The Doves may be one of the more understated bands of the
UK pop scene (and what a relief that is to not have to suffer one more
Gallagher-esque blowhard), but they’re just the band for the job, as Some
Cities’ debut at the top of the UK album charts suggests. They may never
have an OK Computer moment, but blowing out fuses in fits of unprecedented
brilliance can be overrated. Exceptional as well as consistent, now that
is something truly special. Long live the Doves.