The Doves’ third album, Some Cities, is a rather safe and unsurprising move for a band whose evolution from club-bangers to guitar-rock-revivalists in only two albums had a lot of us expecting more. Not to say Some Cities is lacking in any real way—the band expectedly hands in a literate performance. The grocery list of typical Doves qualities are all accounted for—the guitars jangle, the vocals are smoky, the drums sound…well, big. And there’s reverb everywhere to be found—that’s for sure. But whereas you could never accuse Jimi Goodwin of being an ordinary songwriter, Some Cities uses the band’s incredible production and ability to mold sound on a collection of songs that ideologically and creatively don’t make much of an effort. The band took a miraculous leap on 2002’s The Last Broadcast, stepping away from a plain-faced group of Radiohead disciples into a higher class—no one had even approximated the shoegaze-meets-Brit pop bliss of Ride until “There Goes the Fear” sauntered its way into our hearts, all sunbeams of vintage gold guitar and depression-shedding affirmation. Instead of following this glorious path of fist-pumping summer anthems, Doves have taken a step backwards with a collection of (as the title would suggest) steely, urban mini-dramas. They’ve released an album that thematically doesn’t fall far off the mark of current British melodramatics.
Still, things start off well—”Some Cities” is as bright as anything on The Last Broadcast if not a little tighter and more focused, and tracks like “Almost Forgot Myself” and “Snowden” introduce the album’s central sound in good light. It’s at this point, however, that Some Cities begins to unravel a bit. “The Storm” brings the album’s momentum to an absolute halt and it never really recovers after that. Only “Sky Stars Falling”, a seeming sister-piece to previous single “Catch the Sun”, bears the same sense of bright-eyed enthusiasm and sonic bravery the band has become known for. Stripped to its roots, Some Cities is as solid and complete album as could have been hoped for—missing is the innocent charm and reminiscent strength that made songs like “Pounding” and “Caught by the River” so damn memorable. They were songs that you listened to over and over again, songs that—when heard after-the-fact—sound as much a part of your history as an old friend you lost after high school or a particularly brilliant trip to the beach.
The potential pay-off for Doves is the solace that knowing although they haven’t made as grand of an advancement here, their sound is more accessible for fans of lesser, newer British bands like Keane who haven’t gotten around to the Doves glorious earlier work. And, for these people who may just be discovering the band, their intuit towards soundscapes and atmosphere still puts this album far ahead of any of their competitors. But for those who’s whole attraction to Doves was the warm, familiar feel that set them apart for every other British wannabe, Some Cities is sadly unfulfilling.
Update: Doves e-card.