It’s an oft repeated adage that, while few bought The Velvet Underground’s records when they were actually around, those that did went on to form bands and change a little bit of the world. In a similar vein, the sales of Cold War Kids’ 2006 debut ‘Robbers & Cowards’ were small and scant, but like children holding dandelion flakes in their fists, those that did pick it up knew they were in possession of a delicious secret.
These people didn’t form bands and they didn’t change the world, yet via singer Nathan Willett’s askew tales of remorseful alcoholics, clinical drug test volunteers and broken-hearted souls bumping from one mishap into another, all that heard it created something far more important than the band breaking big. From the bloggers who wrote about its charms ’til their fingers rubbed to bone, to Kate Nash, who regularly broke down during her live rendition of album highlight ‘Hang Me Out To Dry’, to touring buddies The White Stripes, and Florence And The Machine, who’s currently onstage working things out via her cover of ‘Hospital Beds’; all who spent time with the LA band’s songs fell irrevocably in love.
Album Number Two is just reward for their amour. Lead single ‘Something Is Not Right With Me’ is akin to ‘Lodger’-era Bowie crafting rhythms out of the ribcages of emaciated birds of prey. ‘Golden Gate Jumpers’ is like Bukowski set to music; Willett again proving that his way with words is central to the band’s appeal, atop an aborted lullaby that is perhaps the band’s best bit of recorded work. All of which suggests how astonishing it is – in an age where expectations of ‘indie’ bands are to break Top 10 – that a band as unique as Cold War Kids should exist. They straddle the cosmos of art and soul with thrilling awkwardness (‘Every Man I Fall For’) and sing about the grot that lurks in the shadows of people’s hearts (‘Dreams Old Men Dream’), while dipping into the disparate melodic territories ploughed by The Smiths (‘Against Privacy’), Tom Waits (‘Mexican Dogs’) and mid-era Radiohead (‘Relief’).
It makes you think that, even when the A&R bidding war that raged upon their inception in 2005 turned many a London toilet venue into a bloodbath, anyone flapping their chequebook about never realistically thought they were going to hit gold with the band’s signature. Like those who dined on the rich flavours of the band’s songs, you got the impression those scrabbling for their services were a little bit bewitched too. Savour that thought. Almost in defiance of poor sales and cult following, CWK and their charming second album embody everything you hoped music might be.