Considering the constant back-and-forth between gloominess and grooviness in their music, it should be no surprise that the Doves hail from Manchester, England — a city that tends to sire punk-rockers and ecstasy-droppers with equal measure. It was Manchester’s Hacienda scene that originally inspired Jimi Goodwin (bass and vocals) and twins Jez and Andy Williams (guitars and drums, respectively) to release a string of dance-driven singles in the early ’90s under the name Sub Sub. After just one well-received album (on Factory co-founder Rob Gretton’s label), though, the group lost its equipment and music in a 1996 studio fire and disbanded a year later.
Rechristened Doves, Goodwin and the brothers Williams recorded Lost Souls, a shimmering debut that immediately drew Radiohead comparisons in the fervid British press. Amid the melodic melancholy of “Break Me Gently” and “Rise,” Lost Souls‘ biggest hit was “Catch the Sun,” a beautiful piece of fuzzy uplift that proved to be a live-show highlight. A Mercury Prize nomination and UK best-of list kudos followed, but in the US — where listeners were just turning on to Coldplay — Doves couldn’t break out of college-radio confines. The US edition of the album even got a trio of bonus tracks, all from UK B-sides; of the three, only the chiming piano dirge “Valley” measures up to the rest of the album.
By the time Doves began work on their follow-up, the on-the-verge expectations were running high. After stints in numerous studios across the country, the group responded with The Last Broadcast, a majestic collection that was almost arena-ready. “There Goes the Fear,” the first single, shifts from Factory Records-style rave-up to dreamy chill-out anthem and back again; surely the group’s finest moment, it was dubbed single of the year by the NME. Despite that song’s life-affirming upbeat, though, the album’s overall mood is one of cautious joy; moments of grandeur (“Pounding”) are paired nicely with willowy come-downs (“Friday’s Dust”). The closing track, “Caught by the River,” is its most revealing, a swelling hymn that would have been unthinkable on the debut. Doves played the late-night talk show circuit in the US and spent much of 2002 on the road. Capitol also issued a limited edition of The Last Broadcast that includes five UK B-sides, highlighted by “Hit the Ground Running,” a snazzy reworking of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.”
“In some cities theres [sic] too much history coming down.” With those words, Doves made clear their dream of challenging Coldplay for the U2-of-tomorrow honors on Some Cities. A collection whose lyrical vagueness matches the gauzy sound, it’s a handsome album, but far from profound. The title track acknowledges current events in a hail of gibberish: “Another building brought to ground / Roads that come together / My memory never severs / The love’ll never sever for me / Can’t I make you see?” In “Snowden,” there’s another glimmer of sense: “We have been warned / It’s a classic sign / It’s a wicked mind / With an axe to grind,” but that only leads to the self-absolving dead-end question, “Why should we care?” An attempt to answer that might have made Doves’ strong, often lovely music actually count for something.