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Horn of Roland

 

Doves: The Last Broadcast

Capitol, 2002

Rating: 3.8

 

 

Posted: June 17, 2002

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Go ahead, say it. When the name Doves is mentioned, you've been conditioned to respond with a single word, one that's come to convey so much more than it used to that it strains under the weight of its expanded definition. A word that's come to signify any music that hails from the U.K. that's even slightly more challenging than the output of Blur or Oasis. Let's play a little word association: Beta Band? Radiohead. Travis? Radiohead. Coldplay, of all things? Starsailor, for crying out loud? Yep. Radiohead.

Hogwash. In the case of Doves, it's true that the band has built its reputation on an expansive sound that nods to ethereal psychedelica and pop melodicism, thanks in large part to Lost Souls, its 2000 full-length debut. But as The Last Broadcast proves, the association with Thom Yorke and company makes even less sense than comparing said mood-rock behemoth to the decidedly thin, strumming mope-scapes of Coldplay. If you're one of those obsessively hunting a frame of reference for the swirling soundscapes found on Broadcast, you need to reach back a decade and some change to an entirely different English band altogether: Tears for Fears.

Yes. The imprint of TFF visionary Roland Orzabal is felt throughout The Last Broadcast: It lurks in the subdued bedtime-story singalong melody of "The Sulphur Man;" it rears its head in the glittering, kaleidoscopic hypno-trance foundation of the engagingly defiant "Words," especially in the gritty, Oprah-by-way-of-Neil-Peart determination of the chorus ("Words, they mean nothing/so you can't hurt me"); and it roars loudly in the anthemic uplift of the closing "Caught by the River," with its oh-so-Roland sentiments: "...you give it all away/... don't let it come apart/ don't want to see you come apart." (Okay, so imprints can't roar; let us retire the ungainly metaphor now before someone gets hurt.)

But if those songs are flickering glimmers whose melodies recall Roland Orzabal's lower-key hymns (nothing on The Last Broadcast shouts with the propulsive camaraderie of "Shout" or swells with the sugar-rush of "Sowing the Seeds of Love"), then "There Goes the Fear" is a distillation of Tears for Fears' unique synergy of the sanguine and the solemn, shorn of the dated '80s sheen of over-achieving production echoes and mellifluous guitar solos ("Everybody Wants to Rule the World," anyone?). The minor-key, calliope insistence of the central whirling melody floats effortlessly beneath intimate lyrics that softly celebrate the loosening of self-imposed shackles with a directness Michael Jackson's trite "Man in the Mirror" could never hope to reach.

To be sure, there are many moments on The Last Broadcast that don't stridently recall Tears for Fears, just as there's no moment on any Travis record that actually sounds anything remotely like Radiohead (and that's the last time you'll see that word in this review: promise). For one thing, it boasts no heavyweight pop hooks as such, opting instead for gradually insinuating moments like "M62 Song," which evokes posthumous poster-boy Nick Drake fronting Portishead. A couple of hazy, ambient interludes ("Where We're Calling From" and "Intro") drift prettily by like brief snatches of Sigur Rós. "Pounding" builds slowly, like a wispy ghost of "Where the Streets Have No Name," to a persistent chorus with an understated vocal melody girded by an actual, somewhat forceful beat. And the plaintive, low-fi orchestral echoes of "Friday's Dust" recall Kansas' "Dust in the Wind" and "Yesterday"-era Paul McCartney simultaneously, with flurries of strings, woodwind and brass fluttering in the ether like frustratingly vague recollections.

Purchasers of the special 2-disc set are treated to a short disc of bonus material, pretty but ultimately insubstantial (save for the echoes of "Werewolves of London" that reverberate throughout "Hit the Ground Running"). But the airy thinness of those tracks doesn't detract from The Last Broadcast so much as momentarily distract one from it, doing little to erase the whispery dynamics that color the proceedings, like spectral lullabies offering pale shelter from a mad world.

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