Four years. It’s amazing how those two little words can have such an impact. They represent a high school span or a college career. In 2004, four years took on two meanings, the frustrations of a first Presidential term gone by, and the dashed hopes of a term yet to come. Four years is a long time to hope for people to hold onto the good feelings from your last album. Four years is an even longer time if that last album didn’t produce as many good feelings as previous affairs. I admit it, I love The Last Broadcast. While Some Cities had its share of bright moments, it didn’t stick with me as much as the first two albums did. And so, four years on, I was hard pressed to remember what I loved so much about Doves.
As much as I can now comprehend that I am again a lover of Doves, fourth album Kingdom of Rust didn’t grab me right away. Opening track, “Jetstream,” grew on me over time, but with the somewhat goofy Steve Miller Band effects, title and sound lifted from New Order, and the band’s own admission that they were trying to write a song to fit over closing credits for Blade Runner, it was an uphill battle. Eventually, Doves won out with driving techno rhythms and a dance club feel married with their usual hypnotic vocal romanticism. As long as I could ignore the outside distractions, the items that had absolutely nothing to do with the enjoyment of each particular song, I found myself transported. Consequently, the title track found me putting up less of a fight as the band had seemingly traded in their Motown-inspired “Black and White Town” for an enchanting spaghetti western mash-up of “There Goes the Fear” and “Ring of Fire.” Though, when he sings about the `cooling towers,’ all I can think about is Lisa’s protest song in front of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. All was redeemed when Jimi Goodwin’s voice effortlessly soared after the bridge, recalling one of my favorites, “Caught by the River.”
The same held true for the rest of the album, as the dual burst of “The Outsiders” (seemingly named after the S.E. Hinton novel with the inclusion of the name, `Johnny’) and “Winter Hill” are the perfect one-two punch in reminding fans just how deliciously anthemic and inspiring this band can be. These are the kinds of songs I’ve been craving from U2 or Coldplay for the past few years, and have been left wanting. “10:03,” the second track to be produced by the amazing John Leckie after “Winter Hill,” is one of those slow builders that explodes into muddy and insistent guitars. As the album’s title suggests, this album is full of majestic pieces that are seemingly drowned in a kind of dirtiness. During the first half of “The Greatest Denier,” I realize fully that I have turned 180 degrees, at first hesitant, and now fully embraced in the glorious new sounds of Doves. The conflicting guitar sounds, some laser beam shots and others crunching power chords, make this song one of the more appealing on the record, and the most layered. I am reminded of some of Radiohead’s early guitar-driven work such as “Just.”
After the palate cleansing, yet hypnotic ballad, “Birds Flew Backwards,” Doves get back to the business of creating lush and ornate anthems that wash over the listener in cascading sound waves with “Spellbound.” There is something simply cathartic and transcendent in the combination of the band’s dreamy guitars and Jimi Goodwin’s throaty and spirited vocals. So, just to be contrary, Doves then supply a track with dominant funk bassline and the higher register voice of Jez Williams. That’ll learn me. Yet even with the abrupt change, the band still proves to be triumphant in their experimentation. The chiming bells accompanying the dance vibe will call to mind a few tracks by Blondie, but they pull it off ably. After a big wind-up, the final pitch consisting of the last two tracks was somewhat of a letdown, but not overwhelmingly so. Reportedly, Doves had demos of forty songs before they started recording in an old barn. The last two might have been easily swapped out for other tracks, but they don’t detract from the album as a whole.
Although Kingdom of Rust heralds the triumphant return of Doves, the trumpets, fanfare and adulation will most likely go noticeably absent. The cold, hard truth of it is that this band will most likely never get the attention it so richly deserves. Without a flashy frontman like Bono, or a cryptic and mysterious one like Thom Yorke, Doves will always seem to most like a workaday band instead of bombastic or glamorous. And while part of that is true, it is also true that the music of Doves rivals those of their peers, yet simply without the dramatic window dressing. By the time I reached the end of Kingdom of Rust, I was less inclined to be as forgetful of the Doves’ musical dexterity, and more inclined to simply be thankful that the band is able to reach an audience at all.