Album of the Month, Reviews

The Universal Want: doves

Ubiquitous Pleasures

(Heavenly Records)

In the tumultuous year of 2020,  it seems prescient that reformed band doves spent the preceding year or so working on a new album. Since their formation as doves in the late 1990s, they have been a trio who have epitomised the concept of facing up to challenges, with some of the well known ones including the destruction of their studio, needing a break from a burn out in 2010 along with the usual personal losses we all at some stage face.

But whilst doves have been on pause since touring a Greatest Hits, in the 11 years since the release of their 4th album ‘Kingdom of Rust’, the band have not only been living their lives but also producing some excellent music via side projects –  with drummer/guitarist brothers Andy & Jez Williams releasing ‘Black Rivers’ and bass/lead singer Jimi Goodwin releasing his solo record, ‘Odulek’. 

Whilst both diversions were quality records, fans of doves were always hoping the hiatus wasn’t a split, but rather a pause, with a return for a band with a dedicated, passionate and patient following.  So when doves got together in the studio in 2017-18 and for a run of gigs in 2019, it was with great glee when doves hinted at a possible 2020 album.

The excitement amongst fans then became instantly palpable in late June when the first track off a brand new album was released. But enough of the mighty ‘Carousels’ later. Now, almost 3 months later after this first track, doves are ready to unleash album number 5 onto the world –  can one of the greatest bands of the 2000s maintain their exceptionally high standards? 

The answer is…absolutely they can, and then some. Opening track ‘Carousels’ has thrilled since its release in late June.  Based upon a drum loop from the great Tony Allen (vale), it is emotional and anthemic. Whilst its sound is typically big picture, particularly when reaching its superb guitar climax at the end, lyrically it concerns the passing of time through the youthful nostalgia of visiting North Wales fairgrounds. Are the rides a metaphor for facing fears at any age? Interpretation depends on the listener, but either way the words “I’m going to take you down” sung by Jimi makes you want more. With a tune like this, take us wherever we need to go Jimi.

‘The Universal Want’ then hits with three more gorgeous songs underpinned with heart, ‘I will Not Hide’; ‘Broken Eyes’ and ‘For Tomorrow’.  All three are excellent, meshing the first side of the record together, creating an atmosphere suggesting doves just couldn’t wait to release their almost-spiritual like music. ‘For Tomorrow’ opens with delicious drumming from Andy Williams, with his outstanding percussion being a highlight throughout the whole album, framing Jez Williams’ shimmering guitars and Jimi’s soulful tones. 

The slowish, hypnotic ‘Cathedrals of the Mind’ is a brilliant centrepiece of the album, encapsulating all what is good about doves – not afraid to juxtapose samples, theme and genres. The song, a homage to Bowie as well as a nod to the Black Panther movement via its spoken word sample, it mostly resembles the equally brilliant ‘teardrop’ by massive attack with its pulsing loop. It’s majestic. 

Segueing to ‘Prisoners’ –  upbeat guitar indie with a touch of northern soul – the type of track doves have produced with great aplomb since their early days through tracks like ‘Catch the Sun’ and ‘Black & White Town’.  It already sounds like a classic but unbelievably what follows is even better, in a phase of absolute brilliance.  ‘Cycle of Hurt’ deals with pain but somehow makes it sound joyous, whereas ‘Mother Silver Lake’ echoes classic early 90s house music, it’s soulful and dancey and brilliant. 

Then, as if there haven’t been enough highlights, the record shifts yet another gear up. Beginning with “The Universal Want is everywhere, The Universal Want is everyone” the sound of the title track builds from a ballad-like lament at humans constantly striving for futile perfection, morphing into a cathartic hacienda house rave, inviting the listener to dance, with doves channeling their former lives as ‘sub sub’. It will surely be brilliant live, in the closing stages of their 2021 sets. Not to undermine all the preceding excellence, this song pushes doves’ erudite abilities of emotion and eclecticism to the maximum. Then, to bring the listener to Earth in the best way possible, closer ‘Forest House’ calms and soothes, a musical exhale for a magnificent journey.

What is amazing about doves is how even decades later than their first music, they still possess genius level emotional intelligence in their music, making both soundscapes and lyrics resonate personally and collectively. Although this album will clearly have such an uplifting impact with long standing fans, it hopefully will transcend to those new to the band. An album brilliant either via its individual songs or in its entirety, ‘The Universal Want’ is a triumph.  

10/10

Key Tracks: ‘Carousels’; ‘For Tomorrow’; ‘Cathedrals of the Mind’; ‘Cycle of Hurt’; ‘Mother Silverlake’; ‘The Universal Want’.

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