THE CRITIC: Cold War Kids Vacillate Between Staying True To Their Roots And Widespread Success On “Mine Is Yours”
Cold War Kids – Mine Is Yours
An eternal question in the indie industry – keep doggedly pursuing your artistic vision, maybe one defined by jagged bursts of post-punk and a singer whose just as likely to veer into screeching wails as he is a soulful hum, or get your shit together and make something perhaps more palatable for your average rock listener? It’s not too hard to see on what side Mine Is Yours falls – producer Jacquire King, whose behind-the-boards work catapulted Kings of Leon from Southern rock also-rans to multi-platinum lords of radio, is on hand, and singer Nathan Willett is content to focus on “love and relationships” in his lyrical matter. Top 40 listeners have something against hearing about family-ruining alcoholics, I guess. But what the band and King bring to the table now, however, is a refreshing tendency to keep things focused. It’s less a sacrifice to the gods of modern rock radio and more a bushwhacking of the Kids’ frustrating proclivity to fly off the rails on previous albums. Not that there wasn’t something charming about it all on Robbers & Cowards or Loyalty to Loyalty, but Mine Is Yours largely succeeds on keeping the Kids’ songwriting strengths on track.
That songwriting, of course, is what separates Cold War Kids from your Neon Trees or your Saving Abel. From funk-inflected anthems (“Royal Blue”) to U2-esque mammoth rockers with arena aspirations (“Bulldozer”), Cold War Kids always have an outstanding hook on hand. Mine Is Yours never comes off as a chore to listen to, as some of the latter half of their earlier work did. For all their aversion to taking even the slightest of risks, you can’t help but admire the craftsmanship that went into a track like “Out of the Wilderness,” where a gently lilting ballad coalesces into one of Willett’s most fiery performances, buoyed by rolling drums and a bridge that frankly explodes. It’s good that the songs here are so strong, because when it comes to Willett’s lyrics, the MOR banality comes on a bit too strong. For a songwriter who was previously lauded for his ability to weave a tale, lyrics like “bulldozer clear a space for us / let’s rebuild this love on what we were” are embarrassing, ham-fisted platitudes. It adds a bit of an asterisk to fantastic tracks like “Broken Open,” where Willett engages in a conversation with a parking meter, but when the songs lift and soar like they more often than not do here, it’s not hard to be a little forgiving. It just makes it even more of a shame when some of the best lyrics on the record in “Sensitive Kid” are sabotaged by a drum machine funk that is as out of place as it is unbecoming of Mine Is Yours’ general direction.
So there’s a give and take at work on Mine Is Yours, one that fans of their earlier work will either love or hate. That essential dichotomy between staying true to your roots and aiming for more widespread success has been the ruin of many bands, but Cold War Kids really don’t give up too much here. Indeed, songs like hit-single-to-be “Louder Than Ever” and the thunderous climax of closer “Flying Upside Down” reveal a band that has always had the songwriting chops to stand out from their peers, one that perhaps just needed a steadying hand to realize it all over the course of an entire album. Something may have been lost in translation – there’s nothing as immediate as “We Used To Vacation” or as heart wrenching as “Hospital Beds,” and Willett truly seems to have thrown aside any artistic compunctions in his quest to write a lyric any ape could relate to. But Mine Is Yours is a damn good rock record through and through, and for a band to sit down and write eleven tunes that showcase the best of their bluesy, anthemic brand of indie with nary a misstep, well, there’s an accomplishment to be praised.