Lost Souls, the acclaimed 2000 debut album from Manchester's Doves, is easy to admire but hard to warm to. With the notable exception of the semi-hit single "Catch the Sun," the album transcends melancholy and verges on iciness: technically flawless, but cold and distant.
Not that the band had much to celebrate while making their debut. The trio of Jimi Goodwin and twins Andy and Jez Williams had their world turned upside down when a fire in their recording studio destroyed the tapes of what would have been their second full-length album as Sub Sub, a late-period "Madchester" acid-house band. Arising from the ashes was Doves, which saw the threesome return to making rock music, as they had before getting swept away by the early-'90s affinity for electronics and dance grooves.
In their new guise, they were met with critical acclaim and strong sales that led to extensive touring, television appearances, etc. in other words, the achieved mucho success in their homeland. So it's no surprise that on Doves' new album, The Last Broadcast, sunny, sparkling optimism and joy shine through.
This sea change is readily apparent just over a minute into the album: "Intro," the vaguely sinister-sounding instrumental opener, fades into the bass throb and drums of "Words," followed by a shimmering, bell-like guitar playing a repetitious, hypnotic four-note sequence. "Inside's a heart of summer soul/ Don't let them take it away," Jez Williams sings defiantly, triumphantly. The chorus comes, simple, direct, and poignant: "Words they mean nothing/ So you can't hurt me/ I said words they mean nothing/ So you can't stop me." Five and a half uplifting minutes that surpass anything from the debut yet "Words" isn't even the high point of The Last Broadcast, as "There Goes the Fear" immediately follows and eclipses it.
A Goodwin-sung track, "Fear" initially rides a gently lulling groove along, all bells, hi-hat, bass, and small guitar fills. Then with no warning, the quiet is broken by a magnificent rush of echoey, swiftly strummed guitar (reminiscent of The Edge's old guitar style) as all three band members fight to be heard over one another: big, thick bass vying with frantic-yet-controlled drum fills and that startling guitar sound, with Goodwin's voice taking on a reassuring yet commanding tone. And then, after a brief return to the quiet shuffle that began the track, they pull the same trick off again but this time, the startling cacophony extends on and on, with the studio masters adding guitar, synth and drum parts to the mix until the song breaks down into a sampled tribal chant and a merengue-style percussion groove that carries to the conclusion at the seven-minute point. Stellar!
"M62 Song" follows; it's a Jez-sung acoustic number that allows for a catching of the breath before the big rush of "N.Y." swoops in. The promise of the big city "Every possibility/ Nothing's left to chance/ In New York." It's a big, ambitious song that suggests Doves are feeling pretty damn good about things, even in a post-9/11 world. "Satellites" finds the band verging into Spiritualized's turf, employing a gospel choir throughout the song, a paean to the "Sweet Lord," with Goodwin testifying, "I want you to notice/ My anger's all but done/ And all I've known is madness." All this, plus "Pounding," a giddy stomp the band uses as their live opener, and the title track, a quiet, mournful-sounding song that rides a gentle groove over ringing electronics, slide guitar and quiet harmonies from the two Williams brothers.
Where Doves had once threatened to invert the Joy Division-New Order story (in which a gloomy rock band recasts itself as a sunnier, dance-influenced act minus Ian Curtis' suicide, of course), the growth in their emotional palette from the debut to this second album is stunning. The Last Broadcast is big, intelligent, irony-free music that demands an open mind and rewards the heart quite well. Magnificent.