WEDNESDAY, APRIL 10, 2013 |
Posted by: Stephen Cardone
Since releasing their debut album over eight years ago, Cold War Kids have had their own unique burden to bear. Back in 2005, they were buzzing off "Hang Me Up to Dry," one of the earliest indie hit singles of its kind. They became a household name, appeared on numerous magazine covers, and appeared to be a band on the rise. It's not so much that Cold War Kids became a one hit wonder following that stage in their career, they had built a sizable fan base and their workman-like qualities did result in a consistent presence. Ultimately, the trappings of that hype did surround them with the aura that they could not replicate that success on a wider scale.
Maybe the fall of traditional radio airplay contributed to that, as well as the appearance of a number of other bands who seemed to steal their shine. Not to mention they have released a few albums that have been decidedly unsatisfactory. Regardless, Cold War Kids were in desperate need of a creative boost to once again push them forward. For their newest album Dear Miss Lonely Hearts, that boost came in the form of outside material, in this case a novel by Nathan West, almost identically titled Miss Lonelyhearts. Using this book and its plot as inspiration, Cold War Kids have taken a crack at the cautiously treaded concept album path. Both the album and the novel center around an advice columnist and the struggle of helping readers and subsequently himself through their letters.
In terms of storytelling, Dear Miss Lonelyhearts falls short of delivering the cohesive concept it promised it would, but that doesn't mean it didn't culminate in the best Cold War Kids album in years. The compositions all flow well, and the album bleeds with newfound energy. Not to mention it finds the band successfully trying new things and sounding altogether tighter as a group. Album opener "Miracle Mile" is a joyous piano planker with a huge chorus and crashing guitar line. It sets the tone for the entire effort sonically even though none of the following tracks match its sheer power. Slow blues burner "Tuxedos" introduces the beautiful balladeering that takes over the cinematic second half of the album with its woozy background vocal harmonies. Dear Miss Lonelyhearts does in fact become increasingly dark and sparse too, as it heads towards its conclusion, and "Tuxedos" foreshadows this change effectively. This creates a real sense of movement for the album.
The first line sung on the album proclaims "I was supposed to do great things." It's pretty hard to tell whether or not the line is self referential or not. The theme of lost genius is prevalent throughout the record, and lyrically that is the only way in which this album can be considered conceptual in a broader sense. As a first person narration, the words often deal with stream of conscious emotive experiences, all filtered through Nathan Willett's increasingly expansive vocal capabilities. The melodies that form as a result of this are probably some of the best these guys have ever emitted. The delayed electronic synths of "Lost That Easy" and "Loner Phase" introduce us to a new era of stadium-sized Cold War Kids sound. For a band who seemed on the verge of dissipation just two short years ago, it comes as a welcome shift. If the swanky horns on "Fear & Trembling" are any indication, perhaps these guys have a real shot of becoming the band they were always meant to become.