One thing you should know from the start: Doves’ debut album, Lost Souls, topped my list of the best albums of 2000, beating out Kid A. The album caught me totally by surprise that summer. One day, after work, I happened to be walking through the Virgin Megastore when I saw the album on the import rack. From the moment I donned the headphones, I was so mesmerized that I couldn’t even wait as long as it would take me to drive home and put it on my home stereo. I listened to the whole album right there at the listening station, standing upright for the full 60 minutes. On my end-of-the-year list, I justified my selection this way: “Radiohead may have made the most ambitious album of the year, but when it comes right down to it, Doves had the best collection of songs. End of story.”
But a lot has happened in the two years since Lost Souls‘ release. The album went on to be an unexpected smash in England, selling 160,000 copies, and enjoyed modest success in the States, thanks to two successive tours and generous financial backing from Astralwerks. It did well enough to warrant a jump to Capitol Records and, naturally, left many fans eager for a follow-up that would solidify their position as one of contemporary rock’s most important bands.
The Last Broadcast finally arrives in stores on June 4, after 10 months of intensive studio work. And yet, somehow, it feels terribly rushed and undernourished. How, you ask? True, 10 months is a long time by most standards. Bands regularly wrap up recording sessions in two to three months. Doves, on the other hand, don’t seem able to work on that sort of timetable. In fact, their last disc, the aforementioned Lost Souls, took nearly four years to complete. Suddenly, you can see how the 10 months might only yield three or four classic songs — as opposed to say one timeless album.
The Last Broadcast gets off to an auspicious start. After the spooky, mood-piece intro, Doves launch into two stately pop epics, “Words” and “There Goes the Fear.” The former is a simple melodic number that races through the Beatles catalogue. The latter is a joyful psychedelic pastiche that is also a welcome reminder of Doves’ songwriting skills. The track seamlessly blends the optimistic lyrics with gentle washes of guitar, ending with an extended tribal drumbeat. It recalls the best moments of The Stone Roses Second Coming incarnation: clear, clean guitar lines with exotic, experimental flourishes.
But then Doves start to lose their way, quickly. “M62 Song” and “Where We’re Calling From” sound like drunken sketches, prettied up with fancy production work. Things pick up momentarily during the soaring chorus of “N.Y.” This song, perhaps more than any other on the album, shares the downbeat spirit of Lost Souls — not surprising since it was one of the first songs written for the album. But after the short respite, it’s back muddled acoustic meanderings. “Satellites” and “Friday’s Dust” don’t even measure up to the Lost Souls‘ b-sides and seem to serve as little more than a extended bridge between “N.Y.” and the next identifiable song: “Pounding.” Although “Pounding” definitely qualifies as a song, unlike its two meager predecessors, the only thing that really distinguishes it is its incessant, “pounding” backbeat, which I assume accounts for its title. The song makes quite a racket, but never breaks free of its repetitious loop. This is the sort of song that would have benefited immensely from extra work-shopping. As it is, it’s not bad, but it just reeks of wasted potential.
Again, Doves kick back for the next two tracks, “Last Broadcast” and “The Sulfur Man”, allowing the melodies to waft by without much care or notice. Only their skill as producers keep the songs from falling totally flat; they apply just enough in the way of extraneous, moody ambience to tease the listener to the last track. Fortunately, “Caught By the River” is well worth the wait, brimming with the assured confidence of the first two songs. Goodwin faintly asks “would you give it all away?” as the guitars slowly work their way to a fever pitch. Doves are once again at the top of their game. It’s just too bad that they wait so long and wade through so much filler before regaining their momentum.
The Last Broadcast is far from a poor album. In fact, it has the elements of a great album, but it sounds like they got stuck halfway through or decided they had enough singles and cobbled the rest together hastily. Even the running order, which spreads the good songs evenly across the album, suggests that the band knew they only had a handful of stellar tunes. Not necessarily bad if their goal was to capitalize on the success of their first album (and if their imminent U.S. tour with Elbow is any indication, that may well be their top priority), but everyone else who was stunned by the majesty and wholeness of Lost Souls can only wonder what might have been.