omeone's got to do something else with this beat. Seriously. There is an utter classic waiting here, but it doesn't involve the vocals of Jimi Goodwin.
William B. Swygart, on “Black And White Town”
I don’t know how William B. Swygart feels about Doves in general as opposed to just that single, but his comment struck me. Something in the tone of those words resonates exactly with how I feel upon hearing Some Cities, after being a fan of Doves from my first listen of Lost Souls. It’s not just disappointment—it’s defeat. Previously, I would have said that there’s a classic in them, but after hearing this album I’m not so sure anymore.
The first indication that Some Cities is a letdown is in the title. Lost Souls and The Last Broadcast are both big, slightly grandiose titles for big, slightly grandiose albums that aimed for the sky and occasionally hit it. Some Cities, in name and nature, is small-scale and slightly diffident. Doves are solid enough craftsmen and there are a few worthwhile tracks, but only a few.
While Lost Souls has matured nicely since 2000, The Last Broadcast still feels scattered and occasionally mawkish (though the best moments, particularly “There Goes The Fear”, remain stunning) but upon hearing Doves’ shrunken sound here both albums feel like they’re in a different league. Some Cities is slathered over with hollow Important, Serious Rock Music signifiers, much in the way both of Doves’ previous albums were supposed to have been; but this time the charge sticks. Nothing stretches out or aims for the epic, nothing succumbs to the grand melancholy of Lost Souls nor does it reach up for the marathon positivity that elevated The Last Broadcast.
There are nice touches, the aforementioned piano loop on “Black And White Town,” the Mercury Rev-ish fake bowed saw on “Snowden,” the strategically skipping strings on “The Storm” and so on. The sonic garnish on Some Cities is nicely done, yes, but the saying concerning the efficacy of polishing turds comes to mind. “One Of These Days,” “Someday Soon,” and “Almost Forgot Myself” all have decent verses but choose to submerge their choruses in water, sucking the momentum from the songs. It’s one of the more head-scratchingly blatant examples of the self-sabotage happening on Some Cities; the trick isn’t a terribly effective one even once, and they do it three times.
“Walk In Fire” is the best song here by a significant margin, and it’s telling that it’s more rhythmically interesting than any other song on Some Cities—and even then it’s mostly just a retread of some of the interstitial bits of “There Goes The Fear.” The opening title track is actually a misleadingly good start because what really sinks the album is that the second half is so disastrously weak. Of the last five songs only “Sky Starts Falling” isn’t irritating, and it’s still not any great shakes.
The more baroque bits of The Last Broadcast went a bit overboard, but this stripping down of the band’s sound, cutting not just fat but muscle, feels like an overreaction. Doves’ strength lies in their careful sculpting of the sonic and the emotional, and here they’ve restrained their palette and scope so much that the result is grey. It’s possible that Some Cities is just a cul de sac, but there’s also the possibility that this is just the beginning of the boring rock plod phase of Doves career. Either way, it’s harder to have faith than ever before.