Facts about this album:
* Doves are Jimi Goodwin (bass/vocals) and twin brothers Andy Williams (drums) and Jez Williams (guitar).
* Prior to forming Doves, the trio were in a dance act, Sub Sub, changing direction when their studio in Ancoats, Manchester, burned down.
* ‘Kingdom Of Rust’ is the band’s fourth album.
Blimey, they took their time, didn’t they? Doves haven’t released an album for four years, which in the current strike-while-the-iron’s-hot climate could be a seriously risky thing to do. Thankfully, though, it seems that absence has made hearts grow even fonder of the much-loved Cheshire three-piece. The band’s last LP, 2005’s ‘Some Cities’, contained some of their finest songs, most notably the thumping Motown homage ‘Black And White Town’. Even if they were still leagues ahead of virtually everyone else around at the time though, the general perception was that Doves were becoming a reassuring rather than hugely exciting presence.
While they hid away, their kindred spirits in northern melancholy Elbow became one of the biggest bands in Britain. Their unlikely-but-welcome success was a pertinent reminder that we sometimes take such consistently great groups for granted (see also Super Furry Animals, The Shins, The Coral) – when, of course, it’s by no means guaranteed that their best days are behind them.
So when Doves finally resurfaced to play a birthday party for their record label, Heavenly, at London’s Royal Festival Hall last September, their long break meant there was a genuine anticipation regarding their return. The feeling was justified by the special nature of the new material, so instantly apparent to those who witnessed the show, as well as the many who checked it out on YouTube later. The first four songs on ‘Kingdom Of Rust’ were the ones previewed that night, and between them constitute a jaw-dropping, audacious return to the fray, and a ringing endorsement for their prevarication.
Of course, Doves’ roots in dance music as early-’90s act Sub Sub have always given them that extra dimension. This is confirmed by the pulsating, clubby rhythms of opener ‘Jetstream’, which was imagined as an alternative soundtrack to the end credits of Blade Runner, and also pleasingly brings to mind travel-obsessed German electro pioneers Kraftwerk. The heartbreaking, country-flavoured title track and lead single proper which follows features a wonderfully mournful piano hook, while frontman Jimi Goodwin’s desire to “feel some beauty in my heart” sees him refer to “distant sound of thunder/Moving out on the moor”, “blackbirds”, “cooling towers” and even “the road back to Preston”, seemingly finding a strange, twisted comfort in the sights he sees around him regularly.
The record then features its most radio-friendly tunes back-to-back – ‘The Outsiders’ is a trashy, loveable stomp featuring an ace distorted bassline and swathes of wah-wah, while ‘Winter Hill’ is the sort of anthemic rock song that U2 spend years and millions trying to write. And there’s as much chance of Bono singing about “grassy tracks” as there is of Doves singing about “sexy boots”.
Elsewhere, the haunting, mournful ‘10.03’ (which features another reference to travel, this time on a train) manages to feel suicidally sad and gloriously uplifting at the same time, while the (ahem) pounding ‘House Of Mirrors’ boasts gnarly vocals, razor-sharp guitar flashes and skyscraping chorus.
Only the overcooked, Blondie-referencing funk of ‘Compulsion’ really disappoints, but it’s a minor quibble. Whatever way you look at ‘Kingdom Of Rust’ it’s a magnificent rock record, one which will delight the faithful and also surely see them pick up new devotees – much like the aforementioned Elbow did with ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ last year.
There’s no way anybody will ever take Doves for granted again. Maybe there’s even better to come, no matter how long it takes.