It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Doves. Eleven years to be exact. The biggest compliment I can give The Universal Want is that it feels like the band never went away. Though it feels heart-warmingly familiar, the songwriting and arrangements feel fresh. It has a similar sense of comfort to that of Coldplay’s music, except this is actually good. There have been some brilliant comeback albums recently. There have also been some rather wretched ones. This leans more into the former. Whilst it doesn’t quite reach the height of Doves’ first two records, The Universal Want is a satisfying return that will no doubt please long-time fans. The band certainly haven’t lost their way.
Though Doves have often been viewed as defiant survivors of brit-pop, their music commonly goes beyond the formulas that Oasis and Blur were following in the early ’90s. The Universal Want has its indie rock anthems, as you’d expect, but it also contains surprising instrumental passages that preserve interest throughout the record. Album centrepiece “Cathedrals of the Mind” opens with a reverb-soaked synthesiser and incorporates production techniques typically seen in dub music. Perhaps an even bigger surprise is the ambient section that suddenly builds halfway through “For Tomorrow”. The music may feel familiar, but the band aren’t afraid to throw some curveballs.
The Universal Want is well written, expertly performed, and quite brilliantly produced. Mournful lyrics glide over bright and colourful melodies, with various nods to dance music, most notably acid house. It’s one of the most agreeable musical blueprints I’ve come across this year, and I can’t imagine anyone not getting some enjoyment out of it. The various stylistic blends become bewildering towards the end, particularly on “Cycle of Hurt” and “Mother Silverlake”, though thankfully not enough to firmly dampen the experience. It’s all quite lovely, really. It’s almost as if Doves are rather good at this whole thing. I do hope we don’t have to wait quite as long for their next release, if such an entity ends up existing.7 10
Favourite tracks // Broken Eyes
Cathedrals of the Mind
I think it’d be quite easy for an album like The Universal Want to sound rubbish. High paced pop rock with busy arrangements and ornate mixing is a potentially boorish combo, but Doves do an admirable job of spinning its plates. The album earns your attention and keeps hold of it without ever quite being exceptional.
If I had to sum up the album with a smug, pithy phrase – which I do – I’d probably call it plushy rock. The easy, drifting melodies and luminescent guitars are suggestive of bands like Oasis, but the inescapable neatness of everything that goes on is more like, well, a Gallagher brother solo project. “For Tomorrow” probably captures this best. Though purposeful and powerful, it’s all a bit too cuddly to be proper rock and roll. Like much of the album it tries hard without necessarily being hard hitting.
The Universal Want lands more in the realm of baroque pop, where the likes of San Fermin roam. Motifs on tracks like “Carousel” and “Cycle of Hurt” are a real treat, with the mix offering its own pleasures whether the songs land or not. Whether that’s enough to make an album I’m not sure. I guess you could say the mood leaves me… wanting.6 10
Favourite tracks // For Tomorrow
Cycle of Hurt
If nothing else, The Universal Want has made it clear Coldplay has practically become a genre – I hasten to add that this is the kindest way I can say that Doves’ ponderous, mumbled, naggingly uninspiring, and breathtakingly dull album commits the most heinous crime of sounding like an out and out rip-off of a moment that passed over a decade ago.
The opener kicks things off with what amounts to an alarming Coldplay-Imagine Dragons lovechild, although by the fifth track in the sequence I can’t help but wish they’d maintained the unholy cocktail. It seems that a template was drawn up and filled in ten times over, such that every track sounds like the last, only wearing a different hat. The textures, vocals, and mixing are tediously uniform, and the instrumentation is too often basic in conceit and effects-laden in execution. There’s nothing to grab onto, nothing to shake the feeling that I’m listening to the soundtrack of a cul de sac dinner party, nothing to make me wonder if, really, I ought to stick Travis on instead, if only to get the same sort of vibe without the vocalist doing his very best Chris Martin impression.
Derivative, sterile, and clearly, unjustly, pleased with itself, The Universal Want succeeds as a weightless ‘mood’ and little else. ‘If you’ve got to let go of something/Then let go of me’ he sings on “Prisoners” – fine by me, pal.4 10
Favourite tracks // n/a