When trying to think of which artists had the best run of singles from 2000 through 2009, a few obvious choices spring to mind, such as the White Stripes and LCD Soundsystem, but looking back over the last ten years, it would be criminal to ignore the singles discography of Doves. As far as their four albums go, the Manchester trio has been very reliable, although their efforts in recent years haven’t quite been on par with their early work. When it comes to the singles they’ve put out, however, the consistency has been remarkable, with not a dud in the lot, the band putting out some of the most finely crafted rock songs to come out of the UK of late. So while the timing for an official “best-of” compilation couldn’t be more peculiar (the band isn’t splitting up and besides, why not wait for the lucrative holiday season in December?), it does offer them a chance to neatly close a chapter of their career while giving the rest of us a chance to revisit these marvelous songs.
With a back catalog as strong as Doves’, it would be hard to truly louse up a best-of collection, and indeed, the dozen singles and three album tracks that comprise The Places Between: The Best of Doves is near perfect, packed to bursting at more than 79 minutes, with nary a second wasted. In fact, hearing these songs together like this actually hits home just how varied the band’s music could be. 2000’s wonderful, Mercury Prize-nominated Lost Souls was a classy blend of shoegaze, early ‘90s “Madchester”, and late ‘90s Britpop, exemplified brilliantly by the brooding, dusky “Here It Comes”, the bleary-eyed acoustic number “The Man Who Told Everything”, and the anthemic “The Cedar Room”, which has been wisely presented in its full 7:39 version as opposed to its much shorter single edit. On the other hand, that record also boasted the unabashedly ebullient “Catch the Sun”, the kind of sunny power pop that the Foo Fighters have always tried to pull off but always lacked the songwriting talent to do so.
In contrast, the ambitious The Last Broadcast swung for the fences, resulting in a well-deserved number one debut in the UK, the bulk of its tracks much more mainstream-friendly without compromising the trio’s integrity. “Pounding” is flat-out stadium rock, in which guitarist Jez Williams’ co-opts the Edge’s shtick and trounces him in the process. “Words” is minimalist in comparison, built solely around a simple, chiming riff, while the dreamy “Caught By the River” is arguably bassist Jimi Goodwin’s finest vocal performance on record, echoing the blue-eyed soul of another bassist in James Dewar. The seven-minute “There Goes the Fear”, meanwhile, will go down as the band’s greatest moment on record, a subtle yet soaring blend of pop, rock, and house influences that still shimmers eight years after its release.
Some Cities (2005) surprised many with its stripped-down approach, but the exuberant Northern Soul vibe of its one big single “Black and White Town” is contagious, and single remix of the wistful “Snowden” is a welcome addition, the song most memorable for its graceful theremin melodies. Last year’s Kingdom of Rust took a less predictable route, and while it remains the least consistent Doves record, there was no shortage of fine moments, such as the cinematic feel of the title track, the bold, electronic-tinged “Jetstream” (which beats Muse at their own game), and the gorgeous, atmospheric, shoulda-been-a-single “10:03”. While it’s a shame that the 2005 single “Sky Starts Falling” didn’t make the cut, the new track “Andalucia” is a nice addition, its lively acoustic shuffle another unexpected stylistic turn.
Deluxe editions of The Places Between are also appended by a DVD featuring all of the band’s promo clips, but most intriguingly, also a second CD dubbed Rarities, B-sides, and Alternate Versions. It turns out to be a rather odd mish-mash of material fans have not heard before and a lot of tracks many have heard, which makes us wonder just whom this bonus disc is intended to cater towards. The six previously unreleased tracks are welcome additions, especially the languid original song “Blue Water”, which feels like a holdover from the Lost Souls days, and the more recent B-sides “Eleven Miles” and “Push Me On”. That said, we also get four tracks that already appeared on the 2003 compilation Lost Sides, not to mention five more from the actual albums, including the underrated “The Sulphur Man” and the terrific “M62 Song”, the latter being Jez Williams’ reinterpretation of King Crimson’s classic “Moonchild”. One rarity that would have been a very nice fit is “Live for City”, the band’s re-reading of “Words”, which is used as the entrance music for the Manchester City football club. At the very least, the second CD doesn’t feel haphazardly compiled, as it does offer new listeners a more detailed glimpse of what Doves are all about once you delve past those standout singles.
Those singles remain the primary reason this compilation works so well, however. One of the smartest things about the first disc that might fly over the head of those who either buy the album on iTunes or purchase the CD solely to rip it is the sequencing. Instead of going chronologically, which would have clearly illustrated just how much stronger Doves’ first two albums clearly are, all 15 tracks are arranged according to feel, and as a result it becomes an even more compelling listening experience, bouncing from opener “There Goes the Fear”, to “Snowden”, to “Kingdom of Rust”, to “Catch the Sun” to the closer “The Cedar Room”. The idea to choose now to put out The Places Between might seem strange, but the music inside is revelatory, even if you’ve already been listening to Doves for the past decade. It’s the strongest best-of to come our way by a UK band since Pulp’s Hits, but unlike that venerable, dearly missed band, we have every reason to be optimistic about hearing more extraordinary music from Doves in the future.
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