It’s always important to admit when you’re wrong. Well, not wrong, really. It’s just that while spinning the Doves’ third full-length, Some Cities, I kept returning to the song “Snowden,” a ringing, nervous track that seemed to arise from an aching loss, a sore sweet spot that singer Jimi Goodwin couldn’t leave alone: “When is it our, our turn?” he sings plaintively. “So why should we care?/If this could be our last summer/Then why should we care?”
I kept listening to that song, and I thought about the Snowden of Joseph Heller’s absurdist World War II novel Catch-22, the Air Force bombardier whose brutal death haunts the main character, triggering his mental collapse and his refusal to fly any more missions. The interplay between the song’s wistful plea for help, and its (maybe) rhetorical question about whether that help would mean anything at all for the singer, hit me hard. The resonance with Snowden’s meaningless demise seemed to make it all the more regretful.
Turns out I was misguided: The song’s title refers to a mountain in Wales. But I still like my spin better.
That might sound arrogant, but it seems supportable, given that so much of Some Cities is about private associations with public places.
“Studios can get to feel like banks, all sort of sterile,” Doves guitarist Jez Williams says. “We wanted this to feel a bit rough around the edges, mix it up with a lot of different styles, so we decided to make the locations we recorded in really central to the sound. We did a lot of recording in Inverness, for example, near Loch Ness. Just rolled the truck up and set up. It felt very homey and comfortable.”
It was an organic approach the Doves never had the time or the luxury to pursue before now. 2002’s The Last Broadcast had been recorded in slightly less than a year, in a variety of studio settings more or less dictated by the Doves’ manic touring and performance schedule.
“We came off the tour for The Last Broadcast, and we felt really run-down,” Williams says. “We’d gone right out on the road for that album, and we were really sick of being cooped up indoors all the time, so when we started putting together this record, we wanted to go to as many locations as possible.”
By “locations,” Williams means the great outdoors, and he means all over Britain: Some Cities took nearly a year and a half to plan and assemble. Recorded primarily in cottages by the water, vacation houses and an old Scottish monastery, the album is something of a logical progression for the band. On Broadcast and their 2000 debut, Lost Souls, the Doves created a sweeping feel that belied their trio form. Here the sound remains open, even orchestral in places, but the songs on Some Cities turn inward more often than not, mapping out an intensely personal psychic territory that seems at once urbane and innocent, urban and local.
Part of that dual focus comes from the band’s deep connection with its native Manchester.
“We’d notice so many changes in the city whenever we’d come back from tour,” Williams says. “The skyline would change; beautiful old buildings with a lot of meaning and heart were torn down and flats would go up, new buildings that looked like prisons. A lot of the city’s character was getting pulled down, and there was a real loss of individuality.”
Small wonder, then, that so much of Some Cities isn’t about cities proper, but about the various and desperate ways of living that the city affords, as on “Black and White Town”: “In satellite towns/There’s no color and no sound …/Here comes some action/First time in my life/I gotta get out to get conversation/I gotta go out to get pissed tonight.”
Yet what’s always separated Doves from their fellow second-gen Mancunian bands is their resistance to the glum and the dour, and Some Cities is arguably their most positive album ever.
“Once you get tarred with the ‘miserable bastard’ brush it’s hard to shake that off,” Williams says. “But I don’t think our music’s ever been about dead ends. There’s always a hopeful factor to it. There’s always a way out.”
Saturday, May 14, at the Majestic Theater (4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700) with Mercury Rev. Eric Waggoner is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org