It’s amazing what an effect homesickness can have. When the Doves released their first album, Lost Souls, in 2000, I had just taken the leap and moved to Boston, USA. I was really excited about this big step (and the whole getting married thing that came with it), but I also found myself trawling through any channels I could find that would tell me about what I was missing, musically, in the Manchester drizzle.
There seemed to be a couple of standouts: Elbow and Doves. Both were delicate and moody and intriguing. I ended up getting really into both bands for probably a decade more— which is no bad run— before I moved onto other things.
Elbow are still releasing albums of course (though it’s fair to say they seem to be doing things by numbers at this point). Now Doves are back, after many years of silence.
Let me start with what’s missing, because it speaks to what I was clinging to back in the early 2000s:
It’s the mystery.
This album is very overtly a Doves release. Mixed with the bass leading melodically, and the guitars dancing on top of them. These are pretty radio-friendly tracks too: high vox, clear hooks and lots of repetition of them. There is a real consistency (for better for worse) to these tracks, so it’s really difficult to say there are any particular standouts.
And that makes me sad, because I can see now that what I wanted was that mysterious, slightly ephemeral sound that the opener of ‘Lost Souls’ gave me spades. The scales have fallen from my eyes – Doves are not an experimental band.
Yeah, big news, I know. But that said, this is still an engaging album, which I might even go so far as to say was… err.. “fun”. Yes, a big statement from the most picky of bastards.
So in the end I would recommend The Universal Want. It’s not a particularly unique experience, but it’s engaging and uplifting, and those bass melodies can still get you to move along with them.
Damning with faint praise? Perhaps, but I can’t dismiss this album for the sake of my 20 year old disappointment. The album does deserve a listen, and I think I could grow to really like it, perhaps if it came under a different band name, that wouldn’t then harken back to former glories.
Words by Nick Parker