[31 January 2011]
Cold War Kids emerged towards the end of the garage-rock revival at the beginning of the last decade. When their first album, Robbers & Cowards, came out in 2006, the Strokes had collapsed under the weight of First Impressions of Earth, the White Stripes had already taken a bewildering left turn away from guitar rock with Get Behind Me Satan. In the midst of this changing scene, the single “Hang Me Up to Dry”, suggested that Cold War Kids might have some staying power. Robbers & Cowards combined elements like the Walkmen’s echoing guitars and Spoon’s astringent grooves. Singer Nathan Willett and his hysterical, declamatory style were divisive points with some listeners, but they added that little touch of idiosyncrasy that just might make them someone’s favorite band.
It seems it was not to be. Mine Is Yours finds the band scrubbing away all traces of idiosyncrasy like Howard Hughes looking for germs. The decision to enlist producer Jacquire King suggests that Cold War Kids are aiming for the same kind of mainstream acceptance that Modest Mouse and Kings of Leon have achieved under his tutelage; while those bands retained a fair amount of personality (whether or not you like Kings of Leon and their sudden ubiquity, it must be said that they’re unlikely to mistaken for anyone else), Cold War Kids could be any of a thousand bands clogging the airwaves nowadays. Midtempo piano anthems with chiming U2 guitars and nonspecifically heartbroken but uplifting choruses—Cold War Kids are now virtually indistinguishable from the Script or Train. Are Five for Fighting still around? Them too.
Music like this lives or dies on the strength of its hooks, and Mine Is Yours mostly delivers. The title track is appropriately elegiac and life-affirming, with a great big chorus and some pounding drums. “Louder Than Ever” features a drum part that speaks to a level of rhythmic ingenuity that goes otherwise neglected, alongside another gigantic chorus. “Out of the Wilderness” features one of the record’s few moments of genuine personality in the form of a vaguely Who-style breakdown and some unusual guitar tones.
Elsewhere, though, the music is discouragingly predictable. The arrival of soaring, reverb-drenched guitars on the chorus of “Skip the Charades” is as dependable as a commuter train. Willett pledges his love in the face of obstacles in the same way that the guitars get loud in a Nickelback song. It passes for emotion in the absence of anything spontaneous or unrehearsed.
This kind of music is not inherently bad. There are those who will like this, and for legitimate reasons. I can still imagine Cold War Kids being someone’s gateway band—someone hears a song like “Skip the Charades” and follows the influences back to Coldplay and then on to Radiohead and the weirder, commercially unusable bands that speak so closely to him or her that they could never speak effectively to the world at large. Having already taken this journey, though, as I imagine most of the people reading this have, I have little use for the sort of pleasant but bland music encoded on Mine Is Yours. Nothing here is especially objectionable, so I hope it brings them the wider audience they are clearly looking for. I’m afraid, however, that I can’t be part of it.