Don’t let the ominous title fool you: The Last Broadcast, the second full-lengther from Manchester, England’s, melody-mad Doves, is not a career-suicide sign-off but a big, beautiful defibrillation. There’s a very good chance that these heart-sleeved Brits, shackled by the constricting next-big-thing buzz for four long years now, will never attract the glaring spotlight aimed in the starry eyes of such ambi-pop brethren as Radiohead, Travis, and the Verve. And this undue oversight just might piss them off. Still, the down-and-outness that dominated most of the group’s critically lauded but sluggishly selling 2000 debut, Lost Souls, has been replaced by a feel-good—well, feel-pretty-damn-OK, at the very least—vibe that Doves wear quite well. Now, if only the masses will pay attention to the infectious uplift before these birds take flight for Bummerberg again.
Doves—twin brothers Jez (guitar) and Andy Williams (drums), and Jimi Goodwin (bass and vocals)—commence the 12-track, 54-minute Last Broadcast with some gloomy aural trickery: an unnerving for-whom-the-synth-tolls instrumental that should spell doom but, lo and behold, doesn’t. Follow-up “Words” is the promise of sun after a storm, a moment of blissed-out defiance that features Goodwin, a sturdier-sounding Noel Gallagher, boasting, “Words they mean nothing/So you can’t hurt me” over Jez’s unabashedly shimmering guitar line and Andy’s XL midtempo beat. Believe me: If “Words” doesn’t immediately put you in a better frame of mind, get thee to a head doctor, and right quick.
On Lost Souls, the good times were pretty much one-and-done with the shiny, happy “Catch the Sun,” which played as ironic cheer amid its less-than-chipper neighbors. But on The Last Broadcast, “Words” is immediately succeeded by “There Goes the Fear,” a nearly seven-minute janglefest built on an irresistible skip-home guitar hook that sounds as if it were lifted from the opening credits of a 1979 after-school special (this week’s malady: agoraphobia!). “Close your brown eyes/And lay down next to me,” Goodwin sings. “Close your eyes, lay down/’Cause there goes the fear/Let it go.” And hell, if you’re still not in a better mood at this point, my only advice is to save money on the shrink and start doing drugs—lots of ’em.
Bipolar or not, Doves, who collectively produced both Lost Souls and The Last Broadcast, never let a little thing like a vicious mood swing get in the way of their meticulous songcraft. In the press notes, when Jez says of the new album, “Every song’s got to be a killer. There isn’t any point otherwise. Who needs another average song in their lives?” he’s not bragging, folks; he’s telling it like it is. Although the band’s emotional state may still sometimes turn wilted, as on the heartbroken ‘n’ haunted “M62 Song” and “Friday’s Dust,” its arrangements are forever in bloom. Each track reveals layer upon sonic layer—not to mention a gift for pleasant hypnosis that certainly rivals, if not tops, those of Thom Yorke, Fran Healy, and Richard Ashcroft.
That said, on The Last Broadcast, Doves also never fail to sate the listener with hooks and sugarcoated come-ons, no matter how complex the setting. “Satellites” is given flight by a swaying, hand-clapping choral backdrop, strumming of guitars both plugged and un-, and, for the swelling break, a wall of keybsy strings that climb high to the heavens. Goodwin, acknowledging the band’s uplifting new ambitions—a healthier frame of mind that has seemingly freed the boys to fully unleash their sparkling pop inclinations—floats lazily in the middle of the mix, his vocals just another so-pretty piece of the puzzle: “I want you to know this/My anger’s all but done/Sweet Lord, I swear I’ve seen the darkness/Sweet Lord, I swear I’ve seen some pain.” And if Album No. 2 proves anything, it’s that Doves can rock as hard as they ruminate. “N.Y.” explodes with a burst of trippy ’60s guitar and outer-limits effects and then turns into an acoustic homage to the Big Apple—that is, before the song grand-finales with a furious blending of the two seemingly incompatible styles. And then grand-finales again with a scattering of stardusted guitar. All the while, Goodwin provides salve for that troubled metropolis, promising, “We’re all better off in New York.”
But Doves really—and I mean really—spread their showy wings when it comes to The Last Broadcast’s final two songs. “The Sulphur Man” is all parts cinematic bombast, singalong lyrics, and stacked harmonizing, a bittersweet symphony aimed at a lost soul desperate to be found. “I hope, I hope/I hope you want to live a day/And learn to cope,” Goodwin consoles. “I hope you find what matters.” And though the gauzy, dreamy drift of “Caught by the River” may suggest that the band is heading south yet again, it’s actually a signal that Doves are through feeling sorry for themselves and looking to pick up someone else’s pieces in the process. “Don’t let it come apart/Don’t want to see you come apart,” Goodwin sings, completely unashamed of the ooey-gooey man he’s become. It’s advice that his suddenly merry bandmates might want to heed: Don’t let it come apart. If you keep putting out records this goddamn good, you might just get that spotlight after all. CP