Nearly half a decade ago, Long Beach foursome Cold War Kids released their debut, Robbers and Cowards. Nathan Willett’s raw voice tested our patience, the storytelling sometimes seemed preachy, and the instrumentation was a little abrasive. It was an acquired taste, but once fully realized, it was wonderful. With anthemic tunes like “We Used to Vacation” and haunting burners like “Hospital Beds”, Robbers and Cowards felt edgy, rich, and soulful, a departure from an everyday passive listening experience. Then came its followup, 2008’s Loyalty to Loyalty, which was, suffice it to say, a disappointment – scattered moments of success among a generally lackluster collection of tracks. Their shows continued to impress, though, and with the release of last year’s Behave Yourself EP and its promising tunes like “Audience” and “Coffee Spoon”, there remained hope for the band’s third full-length.
Ideally, this would be the part of the review with the heartwarming fairy tale story of Cold War Kids’ redemption. Unfortunately, Mine is Yours fails to fit the bill.
The third effort begins with a track of the same name, and an overproduced wailing that sounds completely alien to Willett’s signature prowess. Following a steady crescendo into an uninteresting, flat combination of repetitive piano chords and subdued guitar, Cold War Kids’ characteristic clattering and off-kilter style are completely absent. Any emotive presence is destroyed and the song washes over the listener without requiring any engagement or attention. This trend sets the stage for the rest of the album, resulting in a few radio-friendly tunes and an ultimately forgettable album.
Jacquire King, the producer behind Kings of Leon’s commercial breakout Only By the Night, had a hand in the album’s creation, which progressively becomes more visible as Mine is Yours continues. At times, namely throughout “Royal Blue”, the vocals are so constrained that they fail to sound like Willett at all, and the music easily could easily be attributed to a KOL B-side. Almost schizophrenic tempo and time signature changes are now static, lyrical stories become stereotypical love songs (Take “Bulldozer”‘s “riveting” lyrical merits, for example: “I can feel your arms around me/Pull me closer, hold me tightly.”), and glamorous walls of guitars replace passionate, bluesy rhythms. Essentially, throughout the course of Mine is Yours, the band trades every characteristic that made them so charismatic for its commercial counterpart.
“Sensitive Kid” comes the closest to nostalgic Cold War Kids materials, with its sporadic, misfit keys, and wandering vocals. The lyrics tell a story of neglect and lost family love, and are refreshing in this way with lines such as “I know you were born with a heart of gold/but I want a Purple Heart that can’t be sold.” Even efforts such as these, though, fall short, as Willett’s voice fails to sustain the long, high notes. Furthermore, the track ends with an out-of-place audience singalong chant that comes off as a pure gimmick.
It’s not all bad news, though: throughout the monotony of the slew of subpar songs, a few do try to break the mold. Single “Louder than Ever” and midtempo ballad “Finally Being”, although not particularly innovative, are solid, catchy pop songs that will undoubtedly be fun to dance and sing along to at their concerts. Also, sappy lyrics aside, “Bulldozer”‘s grooving bass line and meandering guitar add together for arguably the strongest track on the album.
If success is defined as trading originality for accessibility, Mine is Yours is a great success. Otherwise, it’s, effectively, a completely inconsequential album. The songs aren’t horrible, they just fail to have any sort of distinguishing character from the rest of the drudgery of mainstream pop-rock, aside from the Cold War Kids brand name. At this pace, who knows how much longer that will actually mean something.