By the end of the ’90s, Britpop had collapsed. Its primary and ancillary artists alike had taken the ideas and sounds of that dizzying moment as far as they could go. Some of the biggest names were only years away from breaking up, some drifted off into the periphery. Others forged new artistic paths far removed from the characteristics of the cultural firestorm they’d come to prominence within. And at the same time, a new chapter was beginning. Existing in the shadow of Radiohead, a new guard of British guitar bands came up, offering music that on the surface scanned as far more downtrodden, music that greeted the new millennium with greyed world-weariness and introspection. One of those bands was called Doves.
Doves fell into what would sometimes be known as a post-Britpop era, in hindsight a strange transitional passage between the zenith of Britpop and a truly new generation of guitar-oriented British music. As Radiohead quickly ascended to legendary status, Doves and their ilk appeared to rise in their wake. When Doves released their debut album Lost Souls in 2000, they were in the company of like-minded acts such as Coldplay, Elbow, and Travis. This was music seemingly born from and for rainy, autumnal days, atmospheric and dramatic rock music that sounded morose after the brighter colors often utilized by Britpop’s leading acts.
Things had been changing for awhile already. Britpop’s heyday was waning by 1997, when a series of monolithic albums started to appear that both signaled the death knell of the genre and the realization of wider ambitions. There were monumental releases like OK Computer and Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space; there were albums that depicted (and in some ways celebrated) the comedown, like Be Here Now and This Is Hardcore. By the time Blur released 13 in 1999, it was clear that Britpop was long gone.
The three men in Doves — frontman Jimi Goodwin, and twin brothers Jez and Andy Williams (on guitar/vocals and drums, respectively) — had essentially sat this saga out, toiling away in the backdrop. Hailing from near Manchester, the group’s pedigree touched several other significant eras of British music. They were raised on the likes of Joy Division and the Smiths, darker acts that also had proved Manchester a worthy music town. Their bond was solidified in their teenage years, during the Madchester craze; it was literally rekindled by the club scene, as the brothers ran into their old childhood friend Goodwin on the dancefloor at the legendary Hacienda in the late ’80s.
The three decided to form a band. It wasn’t called Doves. First, the trio channeled their love of dance music into Sub Sub. They were a touch late to ride the wave of the baggy scene, and wouldn’t have fit into the mainstream Britpop narrative even if they’d had greater success. Still, things seemed to be percolating for them: In 1993, they had a hit single with “Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use),” which climbed to #3 on the UK singles Chart. No similar breakthroughs followed, and soon the band underwent a destructive, transformative moment.
In 1996, a fire destroyed Sub Sub’s studio. Rather than rebuild and continue on, they chose rebirth. They rose from the ashes not as a phoenix, but as Doves. In a few years through the late ’90s, they’d crystallize a new, guitar-oriented sound, one that was spaced-out but also more emotional. When Lost Souls arrived in 2000, it closed with a gorgeous piece of meditation and resolve called “A House,” a song that seemed to acknowledge the actual fire that had ignited this new creative life.
Through the ’00s, Doves would find more notoriety, and critical endearment, for Lost Souls and its successors. At first, this small group of new bands shared some qualities — moodier chords, grand and sweeping song structures and arrangements, seeking uplift through the twilight. That was a major distinction that separated these bands from their supposed predecessors in Radiohead, who were in peak digital era paranoia mode at the time. There was also a good deal of U2 in their DNA, anthemic qualities that became clearer over time in Coldplay’s pop success and Elbow’s earnestness.
Doves, who once opened for U2, had some of this as well, though always with a more modest and insular aesthetic. Even if people were content to offer them the shorthand description of being another depressive Mancunian band, they were quick to counter that, to underline the euphoric or cathartic aspects of their music. Even then, it was less an effort to grasp the stratosphere than it was a glance skyward with a mild sense of hope.
From the nocturnal journeys of Lost Souls, Doves would eventually lean more celestial on 2002’s The Last Broadcast. Then, they brought their sound closer to Earth on 2005’s Some Cities, staying there for 2009’s Kingdom Of Rust. Along the way, they never had the mainstream clout of Coldplay or the long-delayed breakthrough of Elbow. Their albums did well in their native UK, and the press were almost always kind to them. But Stateside, they would cede into a footnote of a smaller era, lost in the shuffle of British acts from the early ’90s or mid-’00s that the rest of the world couldn’t ignore.
After touring Kingdom Of Rust, Doves broke up. Remarks were made (and walked back) about the finality of it. That was in 2010. Since, Goodwin has released one solo album and the Williams twins formed another band called Black Rivers. Fans clamored for the return of Doves, whether because of how their simultaneously glistening but rough-hewn music could engender such a personal bond, or whether because it seemed as if they’d left business unfinished, that they were yet to properly get their due.
Then, last December, it was announced that Doves would reunite to perform for the Teenage Cancer Trust at London’s Royal Albert Hall, which is happening tonight. (They also decided to do a warm-up gig last night in their home county of Cheshire.) In its lead-up, the band has already discussed recording new material — promising some “really, really fucking good Doves songs.” Now, with the long-awaited reunion upon us and Kingdom Of Rust approaching its 10th anniversary next week, we’re taking a look back on a beloved but still underrated band, to revisit their first lifespan as they embark upon another. If you know the band, you are already aware that they have some “really, really fucking good Doves songs” to their name. If you missed their first run, it’s time to get acquainted.
10. “Jetstream” (from Kingdom Of Rust, 2009)
Up until the hiatus, the four year wait for Kingdom Of Rust was the longest gap between Doves releases. In the press cycle that followed, the band talked about the strain in its conception, their questioning whether they still had something to give to each other and their urge to find new kinds of Doves songs. While the album was successful — another recurring topic in those interviews was the fact that it missed hitting #1 on the UK Albums Charts, as The Last Broadcast and Some Cities had, losing to Lady Gaga’s The Fame by only a handful of units — you can hear that existential wrangling in the music. While not without highlights like its title track or “Winter Hill,” the album had more forced or uneven moments than any of its predecessors.
But the whole thing opens with the revelation of “Jetstream,” a song that married the latent experimentations of Doves’ earliest work with the sharply focused songcraft of their latter releases. A flickering, electronic-laden track, “Jetstream” continued the band’s penchant for memorable openers that immediately situated you in whatever world they were building on their respective albums. The power of “Jetstream” is in how slowly and incrementally it builds, repeatedly seeming as if it’s about to finally blow up and then pulling back. Instead, more layers creep in, the whole thing becoming a tense but propulsive climb until the song finally spills over, Jez and Goodwin’s vocals dancing like shadows within a storm.
9. “Snowden” (from Some Cities, 2005)
Sometimes you get a melody so evocative it does all the heavy lifting for the song around it. That’s how it went with “Snowden,” one of the key tracks from Doves’ third outing. That long keening intro situated the anthemic power of Doves’ earlier moments within the more human context of Some Cities. It also is an effective embodiment of the emotional spectrum of Doves’ music. On one level, you can hear that melancholy, that yearning. On another, its upward swoop feels like cresting a hill and surveying new lands before you. This was often the band’s power: It wasn’t all lachrymose, but instead existed in that enigmatic place in which notes can inhabit the emotion you need in that specific moment.
8. “Sky Starts Falling” (from Some Cities, 2005)
Every Doves album has its rocker or two, and they became more prominent as the band moved further away from the aqueous textures of their first two albums. Some Cities found them streamlining their songwriting altogether, offering a collection of often-infectious indie songs that still had little unexpected twists. “Sky Starts Falling” was already a Doves song that would stick with you: It is one of their most effortlessly nimble and catchy compositions. But like “Snowden,” it has an instrumental break that knocked it up to a next level, as it keeps rupturing into a big noisy, distorted burst. Whether it’s Doves throwing a grenade into the middle of one of their best pop songs or a depiction of the song’s title in action, it contrarily makes “Sky Starts Falling” soar.
7. “Caught By The River” (from The Last Broadcast, 2002)
While Doves’ openers are strong across the board, they have a spottier record with closing numbers. Along with the mournful-yet-peaceful “A House” on Lost Souls, “Caught By The River” was one of the good ones. The Last Broadcast is a sprawling listen dominated by a lot of lengthy tracks, one that takes the atmospheric qualities of their debut and tries to deploy them towards capturing the lights of skylines, glittering stars in the sky. It’s a long journey of an album, and it ends perfectly with “Caught By The River.”
Outside the context of The Last Broadcast, “Caught By The River” also became a Doves standard. Floating along an acoustic guitar pattern punctuated by swirling electrics and a cathartic singalong chorus that turned pain to a salve in one progression of notes, it hews close to a particular kind of post-Britpop blueprint. This is an unlikely moment in which you could hear a Doves song, and easily imagine Coldplay, or even Elbow or a younger Radiohead, writing something similar. But in the hands of Doves, it’s communicated with weathered glory, the sound of a couple artists who had already seen a good deal of life and ups and downs, earning every bit of the sunrise glimpsed in “Caught By The River.”
6. “Catch The Sun” (from Lost Souls, 2000)
When Doves were completing Lost Souls, they debated including “Catch The Sun” for the exact reasons that make it a standout track and a favorite/entry point for listeners in the nearly 20 years since. It’s their first pop song. There were plenty of earworm melodic ideas spread throughout Lost Souls, but “Catch The Sun” was the one moment where they allowed themselves an unabashed, unshakeable little rock song.
It was an outlier on Lost Souls, though it had the same overcast aesthetic as the rest of the album. For Lost Souls, it provided a crucial breath, a shot of adrenaline in the back half of an often-impressionistic album and something for listeners to latch onto before the more elusive songs made themselves clearer. In hindsight it was also a hint of where things would go, with Doves’ songwriting taking the directness heard here and translating it to an overall punchier sound on subsequent albums. Still, there was an easy charm to “Catch The Sun” that stands as a high point in their catalog and a mission statement as well. If anyone were to sideline Doves as downers, they only need to revisit a song like this — one that is longing to wrap its arms around brightness, fighting through the mists to get there.
5. “Words” (from The Last Broadcast, 2002)
This is the pinnacle of Doves’ openers. The Last Broadcast actually begins with a track simply titled “Intro,” a scene-setter of clanging sounds and ghostly vocals drifting in from the distance. Then, it flows seamlessly into the beat of “Words.” If The Last Broadcast often traveled more cosmic landscapes, this was the perfect introduction — one of Doves’ prettiest, most infectious, most ethereal, most transcendent moments all at once.
It’s also the kind of song that could explain why Doves could open for U2, which also means it could plausibly be the kind of song detractors would locate as the exact issue with a band like Doves. You could call it saccharine, sure. But the way all of this song’s melodic information intertwines itself is a marvel. First, it’s the chiming lead guitar, a shining post-Britpop move that for a moment makes you wonder if Doves could’ve challenged Coldplay for global pop success in another timeline. Eventually, similar patterns bloom all around, and Jez’s stargazing melody is answered by Goodwin’s backing cries. Like “Jetstream,” it’s one of those Doves songs that keeps piling on more. And it all rushes forward on that beat, one of the only times Doves allowed that euphoria to flow through their music unhindered.
4. “The Cedar Room” (from Lost Souls, 2000)
Though Doves had released EPs in the late ’90s, “The Cedar Room” is still a major introductory moment as the lead single from their debut. And you couldn’t ask for a more appropriate opening salvo. In the years since the fire and their rechristening, the band had been figuring out their new sound; Goodwin had been figuring out how to be a singer and frontman. And “The Cedar Room” stands as a statement of purpose, one of the many epics in their catalog and a song that immediately summed up everything this band was about and was capable of.
In a way, “The Cedar Room” is a simple thing. A long, droning intro finally gives way to an echoing guitar line, like a vivid signal calling through fog. Much of the song glides patiently above an almost trip-hop beat, until the band breaks into a more rock-oriented chorus. And that’s basically how it progresses through its eight minutes, through a couple more droning passages and a couple more guitar lines and a final chorus. That’s all it needs to do. “The Cedar Room” is enveloping, a song equal parts psychedelic and communicative. It showed us what Doves’ world could sound like, and it proved to be a sound you wanted to live inside of.
3. “Eleven Miles Out” (from the “Black And White Town” single, 2005)
Doves, like seemingly all guitar-based British bands of the last 30 or 40 years, often have B-sides that rival the best songs included on their albums. The early days were particularly fruitful, offering tracks like the foreboding and grinding “Darker,” the surprisingly Supergrass-esque “Werewolves Of London” rewrite “Hit The Ground Running,” the ruminative “Northenden.” All of those were eventually collected on Lost Sides, which almost plays as an entire other album alongside Lost Souls and The Last Broadcast.
But the best of those B-sides, and one of the band’s best songs period, was “Eleven Miles Out.” Though the song appeared on the expanded single for the great Some Cities track “Black And White Town,” it’s a puzzling shame that “Eleven Miles Out” was cut from the album itself. You could picture it ending Some Cities instead of “Ambition,” a climactic and triumphant conclusion from an alternate universe.
“Eleven Miles Out” is one of those songs in which everything is calibrated just right. The opening guitar figure suggests drama to come at the same time it sounds like a peaceful reverie. Goodwin’s vocal melody is plaintive and pretty and forceful all at once. Along the way, each element ratchets up the intensity bit by bit — the entry of piano then tambourine under the guitar, how Andy’s drums tumble more and more. By the time Goodwin finally evokes the title towards the end, it feels like a massive release from a song that keeps churning, as if in an effort to kickstart a tempest. Of all the loose ends in Doves’ catalog, this is one that deserves to be at the forefront of their legacy.
2. “There Goes The Fear” (from The Last Broadcast, 2002)
Doves were never a super recognizable name, but they have had moments of pop culture penetration. “There Goes The Fear” is perhaps their most recognizable song, having popped up here and there — notably in 500 Days Of Summer and on its late-’00s indie-cred soundtrack. If Doves have a song that crept into the atmosphere, this is it.
On some level, that’s understandable. “There Goes The Fear” features a collection of Doves’ most memorable melodies, and it has a contentment and movement not as readily available in a lot of their other work. It is victorious, sonically and thematically. And yet, it’s also a deeply strange song — at least for this band — making it a somewhat bemusing calling card. A loping, altered guitar line opens the whole thing, sounding like sunshine reflecting off water ripples. Later there are big clattering drum parts and slide guitar affectations and a brief background vocal that kinda sounds like “Heart Of Glass” and a percussive, yelping outro.
There is a lot going on in this song, and somehow it all fits seamlessly together. The end result doesn’t sound like any other Doves song; it sticks out even on the diverse The Last Broadcast. But it doesn’t matter one way or another. It remains a monumental achievement and an anchor for any appraisal of Doves’ work.
1. “Sea Song” (from Lost Souls, 2000)
Lost Souls is full of specters, but it’s still quite a move to place something like “Sea Song” four tracks into an album. It’s a six-minute song full of long instrumental passages, voices distant and fragmented in the haze around it, with no real chorus or change to hang onto. “Drive with me/ Past the city/ And down to sea,” Goodwin sings. There are barely any lyrics spread out across the six minutes. He draws each one out, giving them weight as the song lashes around it, a hurricane and a listless ship in one.
And Goodwin could sound like a siren call himself, if not for those disembodied cries that surround him. Instead, he’s like a sailor adrift, even as the lyrics yearn to escape land. There is little resolution or order, even as the song is perfectly constructed, even as the relentless guitar cascades create the sort of tight binds from which there surely must be some escape from later.
That is not how “Sea Song” unfolds. The entire thing takes place somewhere else. It’s the most otherworldly composition on an album, and in a career, littered with them. It demands you just allow it to overtake you, for its currents to pull you along to whatever destination it has in mind. And it was Doves at their best: mysterious, majestic, and transporting.
Listen to the playlist on Spotify.