Review of Doves album 'Kingdom of Rust'
There has never been a better time for a band of middle aged men from Greater Manchester to make a record, especially a band that has managed to come through Britpop and everything after, always making interesting records with a singular voice; always seemingly resistant to all the trends du jour that infect and destroy the majority of lesser bands. The 'other' band that have done that, Elbow, have had a year that suggests the scene is set for Doves to drag the heretofore impenetrable world of Brit Awards, BBC Orchestras and Mercury Music Prizes further into the filthy cinematic underbelly of the North West, kicking and screaming whilst James Morrison and Keane get their respective marketing teams to try and pull in the other direction.
The danger here is that the vast, fawning hyperbole emanating from the blogosphere, coupled with a surplus of talk about Doves 'doing an Elbow' on this record might suggest that Doves have made a calculated, 'anthemic' album targeting the new mainstream that Elbow have opened up. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only similarity between the two bands involves, on the one hand, a broadly celluloid understanding of Greater Manchester, and on the other, a tendency to vehemently follow an individual path, which 'Kingdom of Rust' achieves to devastating effect.
Let's be clear from the outset - this is a brilliant record. The best Doves record yet, binding the best elements of their past into a complete statement that insists upon something new and inspiring. 'Kingdom of Rust' mixes the bedsit misery that provided the palette for Doves debut with the spacy, anthemic feel of 'The Last Broadcast', and builds upon the maturity of 'Some Cities', finally signalling the culmination of Doves' sound with crashing authority. Weaving in, out and through different genres and sonic templates with alarming expertise, Doves effortlessly absorb prog, folk, funk, rock, psychedelia and even hip hop into their armoury in way that cements the record as something special, and exposes other recent indie explorations, especially those involving a conspicuous-but-tenuous link to afrobeat and funk, as clear frauds.
Whereas 'Some Cities' was often defined by a poignant, glacial distance, 'Kingdom of Rust' has an inherent urgency that pushes the sound out of the speakers and implores you to pay attention to every element of its fully realised power. 'Jetstream' takes Radiohead's 'Airbag' and straps a super powered Hacienda engine to it, catapulting huge harmonium chords, keyboard stabs and spiralling, overdriven guitars into space, aided by rockets of hi hat and bass. It signals a dynamism that does not let up until the final note of the album. On the title track, the Kingdom/Rust metaphor is played out musically, with the corrosive minor key brought to life by the warm, regal wave of the chiming keyboard and guitar riff, the chorus exploding forth from this witches brew of depression and elevation.
'The Outsiders' is built around a towering stop/start fuzz-bass riff recalling Kasabian's 'Club Foot' as if reinterpreted by the early DJ Shadow, emerging from a merry-go-round of a keyboard loop and crashing into a brooding XTRMNTR esque rock 'n roll riot. Doves stick most closely to their commercial aesthetic on 'Winter Hill', aping the pop-psychedelia that worked for them on 'Catch the Sun', 'Black and White Town' and 'Words' to charming effect, although this is positively staid territory, uninhabited by the rest of the album. '10.03' begins as a dark gospel lament to train travel and longing, complete with haunting backing vocals and delicate guitar, but as the train speeds up we move quickly into a huge guitar driven electro-prog assault - this resonating interaction between sound and imagery is a trick few bands can pull off. The blustering, gale force guitars of 'The Greatest Denier' swoop over an insistent beat and just under a dark vocal meditation on the violence of the divide-and-conquer British Empire; one that finds meaning on both sides of the Atlantic.
The emotional centrepiece of the album is the delicate 'Birds Flew Backwards', built around restrained guitars, beautifully arranged percussion and strings in the minimalist vein of Scott Walker, and some euphoric, explosive harmonies that rewrite the Gospel according to the Provincial North. This sets the scene for 'Spellbound', which is the sound of Doves letting 'The Cedar Room' out of its rainy suburban dwelling and letting it charge uninhibited all over a festival stage, retaining the brooding intensity whilst adding self-assured layers of inspired guitar and vocal production that should propel Doves into the hearts of millions.
The funk/punk/reggae of 'Compulsion' calls forth the memory of Two Tone and The Clash, but is built around a funk-bass and drum loop that finds root in Grandmaster Flash and Blondie's 'Rapture'. Doves' own roots in dance music ensure they avoid any kind of fumbling indie/funk/hip hop crossover, displaying a clear and passionate understanding of how to build around the loop, even managing to add a resounding guitar driven chorus without undermining the aesthetic, and resolving the song into its own hybrid of prog-dance at the denouement. On 'House of Mirrors' freakbeat and psych-rock are updated in a less traditional (but equally as successful) way than The Last Shadow Puppets managed. The 'wild west coast' vibes are given a shot in the arm by some massive bass and giant-sized, unrestrained production; as if the MC5 were hitting you over the head with their guitars.
The record draws to a close with the spacious slow-build of 'Lifelines' giving the listener a gentle outro to what is a dazzling synthesis of ideas and ambition, and expressing a vocal plea for a deep connection to the life-source that, true enough, Doves have wholeheartedly provided here. Radically connected to both the uncompromising, stultifying realism of life and the uncontrolled elation that music can imbue life with, Doves have made their Magnum Opus.