Alt-rock record about loss, reflection and growing older
The British alternative rock band Doves have a history of new beginnings. Jez and Andy Williams, twin brothers from the Manchester area, formed a band with their friend Jimi Goodwin during their high school days. They performed songs around town, but like most high school bands, they didn’t think they would last. The band was left behind, until the trio all met each other again at a nightclub a few years later. It had to be fate–and so Sub Sub was born.
Yes, that’s right–Doves were originally Sub Sub, a band who made dancehall tunes and a perfect fit for the British club scene. In 1993, they released the hit song “Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use),” which reached number three on the UK charts. Sub Sub’s music career was thriving until tragedy struck in 1996, when their studio caught on fire. With everything destroyed, it was clear that they had a second chance to begin again. Leaving Sub Sub and its dance music in the flames, a new band was born. What rose from the ashes was Doves and their new and improved alternative rock style.
Throughout their career, the band released a total of four albums and had been on multiple tours before deciding to take a break in 2009. Now, Doves are back from their nearly 11-year hiatus with a crescendo. The Universal Want was released on September 11th, 2020, and in many ways, it sounds like a time capsule. Complete with a 2000s rock sound and nods to their dance music days, it’s clear that the world was due for another Doves album. It’s sad at times and triumphant at others, with intense lyrics that audience members won’t want to stop listening to.
The album begins with a 50-second introduction, setting the mysterious and solemn tone for the album, followed by its first single, “Carousels.” It has the catchy lyric, “oh, I’m gonna take you down, back to the old fairgrounds,” and is one of the slightly happier songs on the album, with a wistful beat. It sounds nostalgic, and that’s because it is. In an interview with NME, Doves revealed that the song is about their childhood and the fairgrounds they used to frequent in Wales. It’s one of the only distinctly youthful songs on the album, and yet it still has a touch of maturity.
Along with the theme of lost youth comes a sense of honesty and yearning, as well as themes of self help. “Cycle of Hurt” is intense and can be seen as a cry for help. It starts off with a robotic voice saying that “I need to end this cycle of hurt” before leading into the song. It ends with the repeated lyrics “it’s a trap, it’s a trick,” referring to the never ending cycle of bad habits, whatever they may be.
“Cathedrals of the Mind,” another single off the album, starts out with a sorrowful synth melody before leading into a rock beat. The vocals on this track take the form of an elongated raspy sigh, and the lyrics bring an insight to loss. The song was recorded on the same day as David Bowie’s death in 2016, and while it may not be entirely about Bowie, there are elements of sadness surrounding the singer’s death within the lyrics: “in the dance halls, calling out your name.”
“The Universal Want,” the song that inspired the album title, is philosophical in its lyrics, posing the thoughtful question: “this is the end of God, the sun above, how long ‘til we see what I really want?” It’s slow and grueling before leading to a bright build-up with a dance beat at the end. The album finishes with a slow nature-themed song, “Forest House.” It’s playful, and it nestles the listeners right into a peaceful serenity–a perfect end to the album.
Doves proves that having a second beginning can be a wonderful thing. From the initial destruction of their studio, to the end of their hiatus, Doves have always stood strong. Without those second beginnings, The Universal Want wouldn’t exist, and that would truly be a shame.