It wasn’t a surprise when in 2010 Doves announced they were taking an indefinite break. After four albums and a good deal of commercial and critical success, it seemed like their cycle of widescreen, atmospheric/anthemic indie pop-rock had run its natural course. If Doves were an English U2, an accusation that was often levied against them, 2010’s Kingdom of Rust album was their Rattle & Hum, overblown, overly-familiar, and the victim of diminishing returns. Time for a fresh start.
Doves’ singer/bassist Jimi Goodwin has used the opportunity to record his first solo album. Odludek, named for a Polish word roughly translated as “pilgrim”, is a revelation. Not because it is a radical departure from Doves, though. On the contrary, it reveals Goodwin to have been the primary creator of Doves’ sound and songwriting style. You wonder what the other two guys in the band actually did in the studio.
Odludek marks a return to the effortlessly lush, swooning sound of the first two, beloved Doves albums, Lost Souls and The Last Broadcast. It’s not as rockist as those records’ rockier moments, though, and it has more of a homey, small-scale, sometimes folky feel that befits a solo debut. Goodwin played most everything himself. His familiar, always-welcome, melodic style of bass playing is present, but so is the arranging and programming skill that reminds you Goodwin is a 20-year industry veteran whose band started out as an electronic dance outfit.
This skill set gives Odludek a unique, best-of-both-worlds strength. It has the intimacy and odd little touches you might expect from a do-it-yourself album like this. Yet it avoids the anemic production that often prevents this kind of stuff from being as fulfilling as it could be.
The album opens on somewhat shaky ground, the dissonant synthesizer whistle-blasts that introduce “Terracotta Warrior” making you wonder if Goodwin does really know what he’s doing. But once the song falls into a trippy, dubby instrumental section, fears are assailed. “Didsbury Girl” follows the familiar Doves technique of gradually building a placid, pastoral track into a pounding anthem, while the throbbing “Live Like a River” is a bit of a nod to Goodwin’s rave-music past.
When Goodwin tones things down a bit, he ends up with the more inviting, mildly twangy “Oh! Whiskey” or the magnificent, seaswept “Ghost of the Empties”, which sounds like it could have come straight from the Lost Souls sessions. The pinnacle of Odludek is the gorgeous, dreamy “Keep My Soul in Song”. The sun-over-the-horizon swell of strings midway through the second verse is the kind of magical, transcendent moment pop music is made for. Closer “Panic”, a collaboration with Guy Garvey from Elbow, is a wondrous, two-stepping stomper that demands a huge, lit-up carousel to go with it. It just does.
Goodwin is not immune to the occasional misstep. “Hope” overplays its down-home vibe into an overused chanted chorus. Goodwin’s lyrics deal mostly with family relationships and self-reflection, and are secondary to the music’s overall sound. When he goes for something bolder, he ends up something as ham-fisted as telling God, “You will never be my boss”, as he does on “Lonely at the Drop”.
Goodwin’s voice, an earnest, high-pitched croon that for some reason always sounds like he’s singing with a mouthful of cotton, remains a polarizing factor. To these ears, it sounds as good and welcoming as ever.
When word of a Jimi Goodwin album first got out, the reaction was to hope for a trifle at best and fear a disaster at worst. Instead, it’s the rare solo album that builds on the singer’s day job without turning its back on it. File under: Pleasant surprise.
// Notes from the Road
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