I’ve never heard an album that sounded more like 1980s U2. Well, 80s U2 mixed with Billy Joel. And if that sounds exciting to you, you’re about to be bummed.
If you’ve never heard Cold War Kids debut album, “Robbers and Cowards,” shame on you, and stop saying you like music. It was aching, exuberant, sharp and fast. Frontman Nathan Willett had a voice like Mick Jagger mixed with a singer, and a range reminiscent of a scratchier Freddie Mercury. The first three tracks of the twelve were nothing like the last three. It was brilliant and I highly recommend it.
But now, five years later, it seems like Willett’s high-risk style of singing has begun to catch up with him. His mode pitch is several steps lower now, smack in the middle of mid-range. It also seems more confined in its extremes. As a result, Cold War Kids has downshifted its music a gear. It is less arcing and Icarean, and like that classical figure, seems to have fallen back down to earth. The Kids now seems more comfortable in the space and reverb of the Joshua Tree. Willett still masterfully uses the tools he has, though, making each syllable carry the weight of a metric ton. The rest of the band is just as talented and tight as ever, taking risks rhythmically and melodically. The overall package is still that of impressive musicianship.
But Cold War Kids has never been satisfied to do something someone else has already perfected. Using its blues-colored rock, it decided to invest in a piano, and the result is somewhere on the route between Billy Joel and Third Eye Blind.
A band that mixes early era U2, Billy Joel and Third Eye Blind may sound promising, but it’s kind of like this: remember when you used to mix all the pretty crayon colors like Fireball Fuchsia and Caribbean Green and Outrageous Orange, and you’d get Poop Brown? It’s much the same principle.
The result of the album is disappointment, but still encouraging that bands like Cold War Kids are doing music chemistry experiments like this. I cannot fault them for taking a shot.