Throughout the turbulent last half-decade of British rock, some bands have cruised the cutting edge with electronics-addled anti-anthems, while others have been pursuing pop-chart glory with big-hook ballads. Manchester's Doves has followed an unsteady course down the middle. Beholden to the original "big music" sound of U2 and Simple Minds, Doves was initially preoccupied with atmospheric grandeur for its own sake, but by the time of its second album, The Last Broadcast, the band began painting billowing clouds of music with colorful streaks of lightning. Doves' follow-up, Some Cities, is its most confident and consistentit relies on distortion to put a little pleasurable abrasion into a set of songs rooted in populist uplift.
Without the thin layer of fuzz and Jimi Goodwin's draggy vocals, songs like the bouncy "Black & White Town" or the celestial "Snowden" might sound blankly positive: catchy, but frictionless. Instead, because Doves hasn't overcome its addiction to postmodern sonic architecture, Some Cities converts songs as inspirational as "Walk In Fire"with its "Suspicious Minds" guitar swipe and "you can do it" lyricsinto something slightly woozy. As has always been the case with Doves, aural environment-building sometimes seems to be all the band has going for it, like on "Someday Soon," which uses sudden dramatic hushes and angelic choirs to pump life into a ballad that's practically melody-free. But at least the practice helps Doves make its few great songs count. Some Cities' one true keeper comes late, with "Sky Starts Falling," a chugging rocker with a singalong chorus and escalating stages of restrained noise. The song's abrupt drops into a minor key sound like cautionary notes in an otherwise glowing letter of recommendation.