Cold War Kids – Mine Is Yours
Record Label: Interscope
Release Date: Jan. 25, 2011
It’s easy to sit back and criticize bands for their stylistic choices, but realistically, it must be exceedingly difficult to make music in 2011. Even as a writer facing the task of classification, it’s tempting to long for a time like the ‘90s, when mainstream and indie rock seemed to exist on separate planes. There was no chance of a surprise Yo La Tengo crossover hit, and even bands that could have, in retrospect, appealed to the populace at large (Teenage Fanclub et al.) never found any footing with wider audiences. R.E.M. and Nirvana are notable exceptions, but they would come to define the norm rather than deviate from it (not to mention Automatic for the People was no Reckoning, and Nevermind was no Bleach). It’s no longer so obvious what a record is trying to accomplish anymore, but to bemoan this fact would be unnecessarily indier-than-thou. For in truth, it’s actually a welcome development for the propagation of music in general. Festival attendees looking to check out garage-to-arena stars Kings of Leon might stumble upon a set by Titus Andronicus, Warpaint or Sleigh Bells and be treated to a whole new musical experience. I’ll gladly suffer with the difficulty of affixing genre tags—it’s a small price to pay.
Cold War Kids, whose latest release Mine Is Yours is among a wave of recent releases striving to straddle that proverbial musical fence, arrived on the scene in what will some day come to be known as “the old-fashioned” way: soaring in on a wave of blog buzz. Their 2006 debut Robbers and Cowards pitted spiky piano up against soulful blues overtones for an accessible and fun ride. After the follow-up Loyalty to Loyalty failed to resonate with the masses, the Kids’ latest seems at times like a nothing-to-lose attempt to capitalize on the opportunity to veer off course slightly toward more anthemic, crowd-pleasing fare. The result falls somewhere in the blurry area tread by the likes of the aforementioned Kings, and it in fact often sounds influenced by the Followill boys. This, of course, opens the album up for much derision, but not all of it would be fair. Mine Is Yours isn’t without its missteps—much of them admittedly due to the more streamlined approach—but is nowhere near the throwaway the cool kids will claim it is.
The smooth opening title track is characteristic of a good portion of the album—aerodynamic and streamlined for wide-ranging appeal, with Nathan Willett toning down his vocal quirks and settling into an intimate croon while his band plays the inoffensive supporting cast to the song’s swooning hook. It’s followed by “Louder Than Ever”, the album’s lead single, which recalls some of the traits that endeared the band to fans early on: clangy guitars, rhythmic percussion stomp, and a more off-kilter performance from Willett. The handclap-assisted “Royal Blue” hits somewhere in the middle, combining their Spoon-like swagger—“I’ll fly as high as I want,” Willett sings—with guitar riffs that shine like a new penny, to create what might be the album’s strongest single material.
The Kings of Leon comparisons (and the Kids’ arena-filling aspirations) truly come to light on “Finally Begin”, whose chorus (“finally opened my arms wide, finally I let you inside”) sounds like a tailor-made call to pull out those lighters. Luckily, the gambit works, at least for now. Less successful is the overblown “Out of the Wilderness”, which lacks the hook necessary to justify such pompous production, and which finds Willett sounding a little out of his element. He’s much more effective on a cozier tune like “Skip the Charades”, an it’s-complicated ballad (“You’re the one acting like there’s nothing wrong”) that highlights his talent for striking just the right pitch with an emotional lyric. He’s also sharp on the falsetto-heavy “Sensitive Kid”, a song that might turn some off initially, but that I see as a highlight, if only because it’s one of the few moments that sounds like the band taking a chance and playing off their eccentricities. Unfortunately, Mine Is Yours isn’t quite able to maintain its momentum all the way through to its conclusion. On “Bulldozer”, Willett sings with closed-eyed earnestness, but the tune is so lifeless, you can picture the audience’s eyes closing, too. “Broken Open” comes off as somewhat drab despite an instantly memorable guitar line. “Flying Upside Down” is something of a redeeming cut to close things out, but still lacks the immediacy of some of the early tracks.
Mine Is Yours is sure to be infuriating for some—not the record itself, so much as the idea that it exists, drawing their beloved indie closer and closer to American Idol. However, beyond any posturing, it’s quite an enjoyable record, with more than enough populist rock hooks to please, and maybe even excite, fans new and old. While the songs themselves provide a strong enough backbone for a sturdy album this time out, I still can’t help but hope the band don’t continue to dial down the idiosyncrasies that lend their music its indelible character. I don’t begrudge their transparent ambitions, but it would be a shame if they were achieved at the expense of the band’s identity.
You have a wonderful way with words. And unlike most reviews on this site, know what you are actually talking about. I have not listened to this album yet, but it seems to be a bit of a problematic album to enjoy from most of the reviews i have read