As the great David St. Hubbins once said, "There's a fine line between clever and stupid." The line is equally fine between charming and cheesy--stay on the right side of the line, and you've got The Smiths; stray over the line, and you end up with Air Supply. Manchester trio Doves walk that line deftly on their debut Lost Souls, and the result is one of the most hauntingly beautiful albums you will ever hear, a collection of heartfelt songs that rumble up from dissonance and distortion and fade away into nothingness.
Doves is the reincarnation of British dance combo Sub Sub, although members Jimi Goodwin and twin brothers Jez and Andy Williams must have rediscovered their chops in the transformation. The album has the shimmer of house and psychedelia, but it's classic British guitar pop, kicking off with the instrumental "Firesuite," which gloriously sets the tone--swirling, dark, and mysterious. The second track, "Here It Comes," lightens things up a bit, serving up a toe-tapping slice of white-boy soul with piano and Hammond organ intertwining.
A couple of the album's standouts, "Sea Song" and "Rise," are reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins--the guitar and bass chugging along, the vocals layered on top as if just another instrument. It's as slickly produced as an album can get, yet there's warmth beneath the metallic sheen. The drums snap, the bass thumps, each song meticulously crafted to hypnotize and suck you in. Goodwin sums it up in the jangly "Melody Calls," singing, "The sounds they do speak for me, the sounds remain forever," and they do. The songs hang in the air like a thick fog; you'll be hearing the hooks in your head long after the album has ended. The most infectious track is the uptempo "Catch the Sun," which is what it might sound like if Oasis ever covered New Order. Only, you know, good.
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As a whole, Lost Souls is an intense album with an underlying theme of regret. On "House," which bookends the disc with "Firesuite," Goodwin laments, "If I ever find myself here again, I'll give everything," and on "Cedar Room" he admits, "You could be sitting next to me and I wouldn't know it." But in this case, serious doesn't equal depressing: Doves have created the perfect soundtrack for late Saturday night, when you're dodging the police driving home on Greenville or lying in bed trying to shake off the spins. It's the great album that Electronic would have made if Johnny Marr hadn't decided he was too cool to play guitar.