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Cold War Kids - Robbers & Cowards

Cold War Kids, Robbers and Cowards

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

COLD War Kids – great name, fantastic hype, so-so album. If the buzz surrounding them is to be believed, this Californian four-piece look set to become 2007’s most significant breakthrough act.

Partly because of the word-of-mouth being generated from their live shows, and partly because of the incredible online buzz surrounding them, Cold War Kids’ debut album Robbers & Cowards is already one of the most keenly-anticipated debut releases of the year.

As with anything that’s over-hyped, however, the reality brings you down to earth with a crashing bang. The album is a good introduction to their sound, but it falls some way short of the masterpiece that many were predicting.

It begins well. Former single We Used To Vacation kick-starting things on a familiar note, with its melodic piano chords, stop-start percussion and strained vocal style combining to provide a valuable reminder of why there’s so much hype in the first place.

It’s intelligently written, strangely chaotic and draws from some worthwhile music greats, such as Dylan, The White Stripes and The Raconteurs. And it’s a searing portrait of a difficult life that’s struggling to repair the damage caused by a life devoted to drink.

Second track Hang Me Up To Dry [another former single] continues to set up the possibility of a classic album. It’s scuzzy basslines, strained vocals and foreboding drum beats serving to create a palpable sense of atmosphere that reaches a thrilling high during the gutsy chorus.

But thereafter things tend to get a little patchy. Tell Me In The Morning drops some more excellent bass and is steeped in a warm romanticism that’s sadly missing from later tracks, but Hair Down exposes the hit-and-miss nature of what’s to come.

The guitar work on the track is thrilling and exemplary, recalling the art-rock brilliance of bands like the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs and The Raconteurs, but it’s stop-start approach serves to expose the fact that lead singer Nathan Willet’s raw vocal style isn’t up to carrying things acapella, as they have to at the start.

The track still remains one of the highlights, especially as the guitars wisely take over towards the end, but the seeds of doubt have been sewn.

Passing The Hat feels like an album-filler, a shambolic blend of Russian-sounding piano chords and punky guitar riffs that lack any real spark. St John feels like second-rate White Stripes and is shot through with ragged changes in tempo and shouty lyrics, but there’s the feeling that it’s been done better before.

Robbers is a return to early album form and benefits from its slower, more shuffling approach. It showcases a more restrained side to Willet’s vocals and is dripping in the melancholy of its troubled lyrics.

Then come two album highlights. Hospital Beds, especially, is a piano-drenched hymn that offers a searing portrait of 21st Century blues. It’s a slow-builder of majestic proportions that strikes a near-perfect balance between strained vocals, piano solos and brooding bass guitar. The “put out the fire boys, don’t stop, don’t stop” chorus is one of the most infectious on the long-player and it’s just a thrilling piece of songwriting.

In stark contrast is the tender Pregnant, a heartmelter of supreme confidence that begins with a lone whistle before incorporating some lush guitar riffs, a nice underlying beat and some excellent vocals.

Red Wine Success is a suitably rousing follow-up but it ultimately fails to hit the highs of the two tracks that have come before, and the tedious God Make Up Your Mind is a real disappointment, a self-indulgent piece of songwriting that drags on and on…. and on.

Album closer Rubidoux gets things back on track. Its opening riffs feel pinched from The Strokes but the urgent drum beat propels things along nicely into Cold War Kids territory and Willet delivers another searing portrait of American life. But once its over, you tend to realise that the overall experience didn’t deliver the number of highs you were anticipating (or rather had been led to expect).

Don’t get me wrong, Robbers & Cowards is a strong debut album that hints at an extremely bright future. And Cold War Kids will be among the breakthrough acts of 2007. But just don’t expect the life-changing experience its hype suggests. When it’s hot, it’s scorching but there are a few too many lukewarm efforts along the way.

Download picks: We Used To Vacation, Tell Me In The Morning, Hair Down, Hospital Beds, Pregnant.

Track listing:

  1. We Used To Vacation
  2. Hang Me Up To Dry
  3. Tell Me In The Morning
  4. Hair Down
  5. Passing The Hat
  6. St John
  7. Robbers
  8. Hospital Beds
  9. Pregnant
  10. Red Wine Success
  11. God Make Up Your Mind
  12. Rubidoux