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Kingdom Of Rust Iain Moffat , April 24th, 2009 08:14

While "there's always been a dance element to our music" became something of a mantra to guitar bands with varying degrees of conviction for more years than was strictly necessary, it's a cliche that was rarely subverted. This made the erstwhile Sub Sub's reinvention as, ostensibly, the inverse Underworld all the more remarkable. Furthermore, they provided some much-needed definition to various early Badly Drawn Boy appearances, and their gigs around their debut album were, given that they were built entirely on monuments of melancholia, astonishing edifices of joy. That’s not to mention that they managed to get a Motown-influenced single into the top 10 in an era when Mark Ronson was residing in the one-hit-wonder file. Oh, and they've also been pegged as the band most likely to benefit from the Elbow Bounce, a phenomenon — not to mention a name — to gladden the hardest of hearts. Frankly, with so much going for them, Doves really ought to be securely established as one of the treasures of the age.

That they aren't is probably down to a couple of factors. Firstly, it's something they've pursued with a curious lack of aggression. More importantly, the positive qualities of 2005's Some Cities were uncharacteristically elusive at best; consequently, it's been seven years — practically an entire generation, musically — since they last made a decent album. It's a relief, therefore, to see these shortcomings so thoroughly and immediately addressed on Kingdom Of Rust. The title track, for instance, is as compelling a lead-off single as 'There Goes The Fear', returning with vigour to the band's familiar life-as-struggle motif and employing a growing grandeur akin to Belle And Sebastian's 'Dog On Wheels' or much of the Last Shadow Puppets' album. 'Jetstream' is virtually as stirring an opener as Lost Souls' 'Firesuite' was; the grasp of dynamics they honed in their previous incarnation serves them startlingly well here as they fashion an epic of multiple build-ups over the propulsion that fuelled Japan's 'Quiet Life'. 'Winter Hill', meanwhile, feels like an even clearer hit in the making: anthemic without descending into ponderousness, littered with everyman touchstones while never shying away from specifics, as Jimi's voice cracks beautifully. It’s one of this album's golden moments.

Yet there's no shortage of those this time around. 'Birds Flew Backwards', for instance, is a gorgeous little affair, its avuncular resignation bolstered by wistful, mildly misshapen guitar; 'Lifelines' proves to be an exhilarating fusion of their soaring alt.pop instincts with their closest approximation yet of the quiet/LOUD approach that twinned Seattle with Chicago in the 90s. Moreover, there are assorted new notions that, by rights, oughtn't to be at all successful but which actually showcase some encouraging adventurism: 'Compulsion' is an unholy melange of snarled menace, Stetson desert twangs and defiant piano, heavy on the atmospherics and almost arch in approach, while 'The Outsiders' charges in on an almost atonal off-kilter intro that evokes, of all things, Kraftwerk's 'The Hall Of Mirrors' (a move that might have been better incorporated into this album's 'House Of Mirrors', but bonus points for not taking the obvious route).

Whether this albuum will attract the same affection as The Seldom Seen Kid is debatable, and how much it'll appeal to the post-Franz, recovering-from-landfill indie nation is likewise anyone's guess. But the commitment and charm here are never in doubt, and Kingdom Of Rust is a more majestic return than we had any right to expect.