At some point in their career, British rock trio Doves became synonymous with “Poor Man’s Coldplay,” itself perhaps an update of the oft-used but rarely-accurate “Poor Man’s Radiohead.” Unfairly hurled or not, one would think any self-respecting indie band would flee from such a tired label. Yet the Doves’s fourth studio album, Kingdom of Rust, seems to dispute that assumption, employing the same kind of alterna-friendly arena pop Chris Martin and his colleagues have been beating upon incessantly for the past decade. As a result, Rust is like mayonnaise for the ears: overused and bland, filling listeners up with empty calories and leaving little if any lasting impression.
To be fair, the album is a spate of well-laid intentions. Messy sheets of guitar bounce off their acoustic cages in an effort to be hypnotic, but often sound disjointed instead. First impressions carry the promise of an electrifying mystique, yet repeat listens deliver only disappointment. It doesn’t help that the album’s feints toward inaccessibility—disparate sounds, spatial atmospherics, irregular mechanics, and the like—often sputter out in the most awkward manner. Rust spends all of its effort trying to blurt out a brilliant thought or two only to remain voiceless, and in an attempt to be daring and leftfield, ends up rolling quite predictably down the center.
And so, despite their struggle to sound more feral than their oft-compared rivals, the Doves end up having very little of interest to say on Rust, offering nothing but aimless music that is ill at ease in the foreground. Songs come and go like runaway trains, directionless and meandering. The opening seethe of “Jetstream” hints at epic locomotion, but the track ultimately lacks the required muscle. “Winter Hill” is standard (and banal) Britpop fare, sounding pieced together from the tired bits of various chart-toppers. Only “Compulsion,” whose sexy glide and delicate vocals are eerily similar to Blondie’s “Rapture,” is able to separate itself from the numbing hum of the pack.
A telling moment arrives in “House of Mirrors,” in which vocalist Jimi Goodwin sings of ghostly alleyways and bewildering echoes. The song is an appropriate summary of the entire album’s predicament, for despite the steady hand of producer John Leckie (Radiohead’s The Bends), Rust gets lost in one too many back alleys and side paths, all of which the Doves are too happy to explore. Yet the sad truth goes beyond self-indulgence and into denial; the album lacks the kind of aura it thinks it possesses, no doubt looking into the mirror and seeing a romanticized image that’s painfully exaggerated. Unfortunately, the realization of its shortcomings will undoubtedly hit listeners long before it occurs to the band.