Album Review: Doves – Kingdom of Rust

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It’s been a long time since Manchester, UK’s Doves hit the airwaves with the catchy and light spirited “Catch the Sun” (off of 2000’s Lost Souls). It seems however that with each record since, they’ve been attempting to recreate that success, chasing the tail-end of their break out single. In fact, this mad odyssey left them to take a few years off in 2005. Yet here we are, now in 2009, and the three Brits are back, ready for another go around with the adventurous and still dramatic, Kingdom of Rust. They have always been a band to take their time in crafting their records, and for this album, time has permitted them a chance to spread out a bit and explore some new avenues, to areas that break out of the brit-pop confines that once bore The Smiths and The Cure.

So where does this leave the trio? Despite the extended hiatus, it seems as though they are still chasing that long ago single, but in the process have managed to leave a little behind. By this, the fourth record, we are left with mixed emotions. On the one hand, it sounds as though we have heard it all before, but on the other, the band manages to throw in a few curve balls.

Such is the case with album opener, “Jetstream”, which sees guitarist Jez Williams taking over the lead vocals, in what is more or less an homage to Kraftwerk. It’s an interesting pick for an opener (and first single) as we are thrust right into the electronic beats that only make this one appearance. The trick works, however, playing off the unexpected for a dramatic send off. Once through, Rust returns to what Doves does best: bleak, personal, guitar driven pop tunes that take full advantage of Jimi Goodwin’s ability to hang onto every last vowel.

Tracks like “Last Son” and “Spellbound” keep the themes for this record deeply autobiographical. Western theatrics are brought out for “House of Mirrors”, which shows their ability to layer in classic country melodies with new wave’s leftovers. It’s their way of stretching out beyond what they have been doing for almost a decade now, throwing out much of the old while letting in the new with caution. Some of the best moments come when they leave the music to speak for itself and abridge the vocals a la “Lifelines”.

Something worth noting is that Rust is lush with wave after wave of different sounds, all which move from sonic structures to playful atmospheric intros and/or interludes (“10:03”). Much of the focus has moved from the vocals to the instrumentals, making the musical aspect of the record feel, at times, larger than life — as if every note is stretched to its full potential.

It’s amazing the range that this band has managed to pick up over the years, even if it feels as though the dramatic nature of the music is overly abused. Each song feels like it would work as the soundtrack to any coming of age story, or even the denouement of an action film. In some respects, this becomes rather grating, almost overwhelming, and even though the album plays well all the way through, from a production standard, you may need to take a break. On the whole, it’s a fresh start for Doves, but one that still may need another go around to fully sink in.

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