After hitting the ground running with their debut album Robbers And Cowards in 2006, Cold War Kids have never quite managed to replicate their early success. The quartet’s critically-acclaimed debut, which included the addictive singles Hang Me Up To Dry and We Used To Vacation, suggested that they had the potential to be one of the most exciting indie rock bands to come out of America in a long time.
While the California band’s sophomore effort, 2008’s much darker Loyalty To Loyalty, did not go down as well with the critics, it showed that Cold War Kids were willing to push themselves and their sound in new directions. However, third album Mine Is Yours saw the band undermine their previous good work, with what was essentially an over-produced and tangled mess.
Despite not producing the required results for Cold War Kids, Mine Is Yours demonstrated the ambition of the band, which has subsequently carried through to album number four, entitled Dear Miss Lonelyhearts. This is clear from the very start of the album, as the infectious piano-led pop of lead single Miracle Mile kicking proceedings off. The song is packed full of boundless energy as the jaunty piano keys combine with Nathan Willett’s aching vocal.
Miracle Mile is the perfect way to begin their return, quickly asserting all the qualities that made Cold War Kids so enjoyable when they first made an impact. Lost That Easy continues the impressive start to the album, with the underlying, throbbing synths exploding on the song’s euphoric chorus. “You take yourself so serious/ if we didn’t live, we’d be crying all the time,” sings Willett, with a sense of purpose.
There’s certainly a sense on Dear Miss Lonelyhearts that Cold War Kids have finally worked out exactly what they want to be, with the driving beat and scattered electronics of Loner Phase much more direct than anything on Mine Is Yours. It also has more than a hint of The Killers about it – although that could partly be due to Willett’s strained vocal. Another album highlight is the fantastic Jailbirds, a song that returns to the sprawling and effervescent rock of their debut, while also featuring an engrossing bassline.
Cold War Kids also include some of the bluesier elements of their earlier material on their latest LP, with the slow-burning Tuxedos a soulful and measured track that makes the most of Willett’s emotive wailing. It’s not nearly as successful as some of the band’s previous exploits in the genre, but it does mark the start of the softer and more reflective second half of the album.
Unfortunately, this is somewhat of a disappointment after the strong opening to Dear Miss Lonelyhearts. Bottled Affection is a mid-tempo rocker that attempts to reach anthemic proportions, but ends up sounding tired and forgettable. Piano-led Water And Power is much more effective – especially as it comes across as less forced – while the title track falls flat on its face, despite attempting to achieve a grandiose and almost theatrical sound. Album closer Bitter Poem also verges on the cinematic, but it does so with much more assurance and ease than the penultimate track.
While the album does lose some of its focus and direction towards the end, Dear Miss Lonelyhearts is undoubtedly a much better album than Mine Is Yours. It doesn’t reach the heights of Cold War Kids’ debut – or even their underrated second album – but there is enough here to suggest that the sextet have still have a lot of unfinished business. Cold War Kids may divide opinion, but when they do get it right, their potential is clear for all to see.