Oasis might be the most famous band from Manchester, UK and at one time they might have even been the best. When Doves released “”The Last Broadcast” in 2002 they staked an impressive claim to the latter (but the lack of brotherly conflict likely assures the Gallaghers will always be more famous than the Williams twins). “The Last Broadcast” was an amazing and textured album that blended numerous styles without feeling disjointed. NME honored “There Goes The Fear Again” as it’s top single of the year.
“Some Cities” is Doves’ first album of new material in three years (the band released a b-sides collection called “Lost Sides” between “The Last Broadcast and “Some Cities” as well as a live DVD) and represents the answer to the oft-asked rock and roll question: is it better to run from a masterpiece or write its sequel? Some bands make good choices and great albums (U2’s transition from “The Joshua Tree” to “Achtung Baby”) while others never recover from their own success.
Doves try to be all things to all people by covering new ground on “Some Cities” while maintaining a connection with their musical roots. They may not fully succeed, but they rarely disappoint. Andy Williams said there was a conscious effort on the part of the band to make these new songs shorter and more direct. Mission accomplished. The first two tracks on “Some Cities” (the title track and first single “Black and White Town”) are more aggressive than nearly anything else the band has recorded and the experiment is a success. Soaring keyboards have been replaced by guitars that jangle and snarl. The openers as well as “One of These Days” are concise without being underdeveloped.
Fans of the band’s previous efforts might find this approach alienating, but Doves have not completely abandoned their roots. “Snowden” would have sounded at home on “The Last Broadcast” and “The Storm” takes that even further with one of the most effective marriages of strings and sampling this side of Portishead.
Doves at their best are ambient without sounding ambivalent and melancholy without being melodramatic. “Someday Soon” embraces the Doves formula and might be the strongest track on the album. “Someday Soon,” “Sky Starts Falling,” and “One of These Days” are beautiful examples of gloom with grit.
“The Last Broadcast” is still a better album but “Some Cities” does not disappoint. Is it too early to start considering Album of the Year? Of course. But the beauty in these songs guarantees “Some Cities” a place in that discussion even if this is a record that is out of fashion in 2005. Doves are one of the best bands America is not hearing. “Some Cities” deserves a kinder fate.
Reviewer’s Listening Notes: These are the notes I took while I was listening to the album for the review. They are pretty random and fragmented and probably full of grammatical attrocites but I thought some of you might find them interesting as I comment on each track. And if not…
1. “Some Cities”
First Spin: The kids wanna rock! Big guitars mixed out front. Occasional industrial bursts.
Second Spin: Sounds a little less ‘hard’ upon the second listen. I liked it better the second time.
2. “Black and White Town”
First Spin: First single. Less guitar, more drum to open the track. Big guitar chorus. Guitars partially retreat when the verse returns. The keyboard melody has a 70′s retro vibe. Spoken word bridge. Very good song, not catchy enough to be a big single.
Second Spin: Jimi Goodwin sounds a little like Roland Orzabal (Tears for Fears) on this track. This, too, sounds a little less ‘hard.’ But these first two songs still stand in contrast to Doves’ previous records. This one really grew on me on the second listen. It is a shame it will not get any airplay in the US… it it good enough to be a hit.
3. “Almost Forgot Myself”
First Spin: More groove oriented to open the song. Good track, but it walks the fine line between subtle and boring.
Second Spin: I am going to go with subtle over boring. It is not a standout track, but it is serviceable. Not a classic, not a dud. Solid.
First Spin: First song to sound like Doves’ previous output on the album. Nice hook in the opening. Song loses momentum during an odd sonic outburst of cracks and static. Very good, but the sonic chaos is a bit offputting and unnecessary.
Second Spin: Every song needs a fuckin’ glockenspiel! New rule: all albums released from this point on must have a glockenspiel on at least one song. This one has grown on me as well. I am not crazy about the mishmash in the middle of the song.
5. “The Storm”
First Spin: Lovely strings. The first change in vocalists on the album. Plays a bit like a broken vinyl record. Odd synth sound pings in the background. The chorus is underwhelming. Righteous harmonica sounds for the solo – gives the song a much needed kick in the ass. The harmonica and the strings are fantastic. Sounds like a natural progression from “The Last Broadcast.”
Second Spin: Think Portishead. This might be the ‘masterpiece’ moment on the album. That harmonica blast is sweet. Harmonicas and glockenspiels: the answer to rock’s doldrums.
6. “Walk in the Fire”
First Spin: Longest song on the CD. Somewhat echoes “There Goes the Fear Again” from “The Last Broadcast.”
Second Spin: Maybe a little too long. Solid song but not a standout. I could see this one growing on me in six months though. I am kind of all over the board on “Walk in the Fire.”
7. “One of These Days”
First Spin: Simple, but good. Not as harsh as the earlier tracks on the CD, but far from mellow.
Second Spin: Classic Doves opening. “One of These Days” is a bridge from the first two albums to “Some Cities.”
8. “Someday Soon”
First Spin: Acoustic based at beginning. Transistions to more of a keyboard/soundscape sound reminiscent of “The Last Broadcast” before acoustic guitars return.
Second Spin: This might not be the ‘masterpiece’ moment, but this might be my favorite on the disc. Some moments of ethereal beauty.
9. “Shadows of Salford”
First Spin: Thank goodness this is the shortest song on the CD.
Second Spin: I can almost guarantee based on the “Lost Sides” B-side compilation there will be a B-Side released on a single from this album that will make the inclusion of this song seem stupid.
10. “Sky Starts Falling”
First Spin: Very ‘doves’ intro. Flow interrupted by outburst of churning guitars. [Would this song have made more sense if it were sequenced at the beginning of the record rather than at the end?]
Second Spin: I think this one is going to be a single. It should be a single. This is another bridge song. Think “Pounding” from “The Last Broadcast” with a snarling guitar lick in the middle of the song.
First Spin: Echo-laden guitars and vocals. It is a good end to the record because it bears little resemblance to the album’s opening tracks and it makes the album feel like a journey of sorts.
Second Spin: Cool ambient moment. Gentle and somber.