Saturday, 18 April 2009
Kingdom of Rust
Doves - Kingdom of Rust
released 6 April 2009 on Heavenly
There’s an unwritten rule in this business that we call show, that once you’ve released a couple of albums, you fit into some form of “rock hierarchy” where climbing the ladder can prove almost impossible. At the top are your million-selling stadium rockers: a select band of artists whose every move is reported and could release an album consisting entirely of guitar feedback and the mating call of the sperm whale and would still sell millions. We’re talking U2, REM, Bruce Springsteen. Below that, there’s the widely-popular bands who practically everyone has heard of, followed by your cult concerns with their devoted fanbase and slot halfway through the day at the summer festivals. Below that, your indies and your unsigneds make up the structure and once you’ve found your level, you’re pretty much stuck.
What it takes to move up is a fantastic album, a huge slice of luck and serendipity or most likely, both. The last band to obviously make the move is Elbow, whose most recent long player, The Seldom Seen Kid, launched them from a band who sell around 100,000 albums to household names and Mercury Prize winners. As good as the album is, being in the right place at the right time was also vitally important for Elbow. Releasing their album in March 2008 meant there was enough time for it to creep into the public consciousness before heavy promotion across the festivals took them into the big time.
It’s a neat trick, and on this evidence, one that Doves are keen to repeat. Unfortunately for them, it looks unlikely on this showing. Whereas The Seldom Seen Kid was inventive, gripping and featured the superb lyrics of Guy Garvey, Kingdom of Rust is simply drab in comparison.
Take opening track, Jetstream, for example. It builds and builds nicely; it races along on a steady beat and expert guitar licks, but that’s all - it’s functional rather than extraordinary. It’s also devoid of any detectable chorus; the track seems like it’s heading towards an almighty climax and is just crying out for a crunching riff or all hell breaking loose, but it never does. It’s the equivalent of a football team putting together a fantastic multi-pass move and every time they close in on goal, they pass back to midfield and eventually the referee just blows for full time. So, rather than be impressed at the technical ability and build-up, you’re just left feeling disappointed that the satisfying ending never came.
Current single, Kingdom of Rust, however, is better. Chiming guitars and racing percussion reminiscent of a locomotive engine make it a joy to listen to, yet this proves to be the exception rather than the rule. As the album progresses, Kingdom of Rust resembles second-rate, dour bands such as Embrace and Snow Patrol. It suffers from the same disease that affects far too large a proportion of 21st Century music; the belief that sincerity is everything. Thus, Jimi Goodwin pulls the right poses and emotes as he feels he should, but it’s just empty gestures. It seems Doves have been listening to commercial radio too much and have lost sight of what sold them records in the first place; there’s nothing here to rival classic singles like There Goes The Fear or Black And White Town.
Perhaps this approach, where the tracks bleed into one another and sound as if they were recorded underwater, is just a cunning ploy to deter the casual listener. After two thirds of Kingdom of Rust, Doves loosen up and really hit their stride. Spellbound is a soaring epic of the quality Doves have failed to attain on the previous tracks. Compulsion is a revelation; a funky, disco bassline gives way into a swaggering track which sounds, fantastically, like a re-write of Blondie’s Rapture. Closing track, Lifelines, is by far the most uplifting and ends the album on such a positive note, you’d be forgiven for forgetting what went before and proclaiming this as a great album.
Make no mistake though, this clearly isn’t a great album. However, following the model that Elbow and several others before them have used, this will probably be a success. Doves are hitting the festivals in 2009 (including Latitude and a second-stage headlining slot at Glastonbury) where a decent performance will have Kingdom of Rust flying off the shelves. For the most part though, it adds little to a genre that’s already saturated and is disappointing from a band whose past evidence has shown can do better.