Some Cities (2005, Capitol)
Somewhere on the outskirts of Manchester, England, Doves have discovered a crossroads where the classic Motown Sound first met the Expansive Modern British Rock Empire centuries ago. Don’t bother looking for it yourself, you won’t find it. In this place, the road is paved with smooth black macadam, which is then covered with dusty gravel, which is then covered with dark fertile soil, which is then covered with tall green grass until it has disappeared into the English countryside. With Some Cities, Doves are sending us some photos from this magical place, but I fear they will never divulge the actual location. I can guess that it’s somewhere near the crossroads of Soul and Skiffle, near the birthplace of groups like The Jam and Traffic.
In this place, centuries-old architecture is being demolished before your eyes, with new and unimproved buildings popping up in their place before the dust has even settled. But even in this dire subject matter, they have managed to capture the sound of the reverberations in the empty corridors and stairwells of the old right before the wrecking ball starts tearing the place down. As a point of fact, the beautiful final track ‘Ambition’ was recorded in a monastery in Northern England which has since been torn down – a point of irony so British that it could only happen to a British rock band writing a record about old and important things crumbling down around us.
The title track begins with a sound that immediately transports the listener to a Phil Spector recording session being held somewhere in the London Underground. ‘Black and White Town’, the first single, channels the pure summer joy of ‘(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave’ by Martha & the Vandellas without sounding at all like a throwback, though the guitar solo is undeniably weak. The verses of ‘Almost Forgot Myself’ are reminiscent of a great Temptations shuffle mixed with a haunting chorus that recalls a reverb-soaked Jaybirds ballad. A special mention goes to ‘The Storm’, which contains both the coolest orchestra sample and harmonica solo (yes, harmonica) so far this year. The two obvious stand-out tracks, ‘Snowden’ (the second single) and ‘One of These Days’ manage to summarize this record without diluting the message – “We have been warned/It’s a classic sign/It’s a wicked mind with an ax to grind”… “Say something/Anything will do my love”… both lyrics full of pause and regret, a failure to communicate something important before it falls into ruin.
Where other critics seem to have a problem with Jimi Goodwin’s voice, I must openly admit that I have always liked the sound of it, the imperfection of it – even the ‘Chris Martin’ of it. But whether or not you like his voice, Jimi has shown a remarkable improvement between The Last Broadcast and Some Cities, and the production shows a new confidence, pushing Goodwin’s vocals (and the likewise-improved vocals of Jez and Andy Williams) unashamedly to the forefront of the arrangements at crucial times where their previous records tended to self-consciously hide them more behind a wash of guitars.
This magical crossroads outside of Manchester must also be near the spot where we all hoped that Coldplay and Travis would be – should be – sitting in circles, lost in a meditation of the Modern English Dilemma. But since both of these groups have now clearly mistaken the pursuit of widespread American palatability for the pursuit of greatness in songwriting and musicality that seemed to peek out from behind both of their earliest pursuits -and having watched each of them ‘achieve’ varying degrees of success in both categories – I have willingly and readily tossed aside these paper tigers for a small flock of Doves that have found a better migration route across the Atlantic Ocean.
We have been warned. It’s a classic sign.
–David Cloyd 7/18/05