It’s never a good sign when the first thing people think of when hearing your band name is how bad your last album was. For Cold War Kids, 2011’s widely panned Mine Is Yours has been something of a blight on their existence, and unfortunate blemish to try and live down. Happily for them, the band’s fourth release Dear Miss Lonelyhearts marks a significant recovery and refocusing for them, a clear move back to the musicality and creativity that first established their following.
The album’s opening track and lead single “Miracle Mile” gives us our first clue that things are on the right track, with the return of the rock piano riff driving the song’s momentum and energy throughout. The energy continues into “Lost That Easy” and “Loner Phase”, both of which rely a little more on electro influence than long-time fans might be used to, but make up for it with passionate vocals and chant-worthy choruses. Slower jams like “Tuxedo” and “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts” give frontman Nathan Willett space to emote and riff in his signature soulful style, and “Jailbirds” blends powerpop and punk influences into the most indie-rock sounding track on the album. For me, however, the hidden gem on the record is “Water & Power”; probably a deep cut by most accounts, its haunting piano and vocals captivated me, and made it the most memorable tune on the album.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that Dear Miss Lonelyhearts could not be described as breaking any new ground for Cold War Kids. Rather, it serves more of a reset button, taking the band out of negative territory and back toward zero, rather than giving them forward movement. In fact, fans who preferred the band’s earlier, more soulful vibe will be disappointed at the lack of it on this album, and are likely to argue that the record doesn’t do enough to get the band back to where they were. The band’s combination of soul/R&B and punk influences has always been something of an acquired taste, and they really needed to be spending the past few years honing and focusing their sound, rather than making up for lost time. As it is, by essentially hitting the reset button, they are still suffering from a lack of focus. It could easily be argued that Cold War Kids sound at any given moment too much like any of a number of other bands, and not enough like themselves. Indeed, while Nathan Willett definitely conveys a lot of passion in his voice, he still seems to be a bit of a chameleon, at different times channeling Brandon Flowers, Ryan Tedder and George Michael with his stylings, sometimes within the same song.
Overall, Cold War Kids is a great band with a lot of potential, and their unique blend of influences is a good idea—it just needs to evolve. Dear Miss Lonelyhearts certainly takes several steps in the right direction, but it doesn’t mark any real growth for the band; instead, it basically makes up for lost time.