I’ve defended Cold War Kids for a long time now. Robbers & Cowards is, for me, a flawed masterpiece – the perfect mix of shout-along chorus work and off-kilter weirdness (‘Saint John’s strange shifts in tempo are just brilliant) marred by some slightly plodding areas more than made up for by all the brilliance throughout – ‘We Used To Vacation’ remains one of my favourite songs of all time. The much-maligned Loyalty to Loyalty saw the band embrace the esoteric side of their music a little too much, making for a disjointed album that was dull in some places, but really very, very good in others. And so we come to Mine Is Yours. Heralded by the pretty fantastic ‘Royal Blue’ and the fairly dull ‘Louder Than Ever’, I had difficulty trying to work out what to expect when I first listened to the full album.
No matter what I might have expected – another failed attempt at soul-inflected piano ‘n’ drum stomp maybe, a more conventional indie guitar album perhaps – I never, ever expected whatI’ve been faced with. A soft-rock album. A fucking soft-rock album. Just for a moment, let me put forward my thoughts on soft-rock here; I don’t have a problem with it. I find myself completely indifferent to it beyond being slightly bored. I’m not made angry by Coldplay or Maroon 5 like some – I just don’t think it’s particularly good music. It sort of follows from a generic title like that – soft rock – you might not like cats, but a fluffy kitten is rarely actively offensive.
My problem with Cold War Kids releasing a soft-rock album, and the ensuing anger because of that problem, is in wondering how they ever got to this point of making utterly tepid, meaningless music. Robbers & Cowards was an album characterised by its lyrics – tales of (sub)urban desperation, guilt, even murder. Mine Is Yours sounds like the work of a team of songwriters – there’s no meaning, there’s no thought beyond the surface. The music has followed a similar pattern – any of the ramshackle beauty of the first two albums has been removed in favour of “anthemic” buildups filled with background synth – it sounds more like a down-to-Earth Killers than what I fell in love with – even Nathan Willett’s amazing, soaring tones are bereft of feeling. “Selling out” is a term I don’t have much time for, but it’s the only explanation I can find for this seismic shift – this sounds like a last-ditch attempt at mainstream radio play that the fans never wanted anyway. Granted, I’ve only given the new record one listen so far – but when you’re so repulsed by an initial playthough it’s hard to work up the interest to do it all over again.
I’m angry because I don’t understand. And I’m not sure I can defend them any longer.