There is so much more to the Cold War Kids than what they’ve gotten credit for. I’ll never forget the Long Beach-based band’s performance at Lollapalooza in 2007. At that time, their debut album, Robbers & Cowards, had managed to spark a buzz frenzy with the indie rock masses, and leading the charge was the igniting single “Hang Me Up To Dry.” I don’t remember when exactly “Hang Me Up To Dry” was played in their set that day, but is was somewhere in the middle because after the song ended a notable portion of the crowd began to walk away. Instead of ignoring the mass exodus and continuing onto the next song, Cold War Kids frontman Nathan Willett called it out. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something along the lines of: “If you walk away now, you’ll be missing out. You haven’t heard anything yet.” He didn’t seem angry about it, or upset, he was just being honest.
Much like their set that day, if you failed to stick around for the Cold War Kids beyond the Robbers & Cowards popularity glow, then you’ve been missing out. Yes, the sophomore follow-up, Loyalty to Loyalty, was denser and darker but it’s not without its beautifully poignant moments (“Dream Old Men Dream,” “Every Man I Fall For”) and dance-igniting revelries (“Relief,” “Something Is Not Right With Me”). The 2009 Behave Yourself EP was fantastic, one of the most comprehensive four and a half song EPs that I’ve ever listened to. It set the table for 2011’s Mine is Yours, which, regardless of lukewarm reviews, is simply brimming with modern day rock gems (“Royal Blue,” Finally Begin,” “Skip The Charades,” “Cold Toes On The Cold Floor”).
And here we are now with Dear Miss Lonelyhearts. What will the critics say about the Cold War Kids’ fourth album? Well, after more than several listens already, may I say, Long Beach soul continues to be alive and well.
Willett told the Huffington Post that many of the Dear Miss Lonelyhearts songs revolved around the struggles of an advice columnist, a character in Nathanael West’s novel “Miss Lonelyhearts.” That outside inspiration was a fantastic starting point for the latest album. Cold War Kids have always done well tackling the ups and downs of everyday life in their music, and the “Miss Lonelyhearts” concept offers a fresh approach.
Lead album track and single, “Miracle Mile” gets things started on a bustling note— three minutes of fast-paced, frantic fun. Maybe their most immediate and effortlessly likable hit since “Hang Me Up To Dry.” Outside of “Miracle Mile,” Dear Miss Lonelyhearts is more mid-tempo, stirring and bluesy—favorite components of the Cold War Kids arsenal.
“Lost That Easy” builds off of a low, somewhat hypnotic beat, but bursts open on the rousing chorus. “Loner Phase” also features a thumping rhythm and Matt Aveiro’s standout drum work. Willett anchors the song beautifully with the yearning chorus “If you think you can/ Reach out your hand/ Like all is well and nothing changed/ I went through hell to watch you in outer space.”
Things slow down a bit on the contemplative “Tuxedos.” The overall sound is wonderfully blues-drenched. Willett is seemingly doing a rendition of stomping out the blues and he nails it: “I think about eyes that watch you/ I think about changes I made/ I think about all this fancy food poured down the drain.” At the end, he repeatedly hammers out the “Down the drain” line giving the track an outstanding, impassioned close. Dear Miss Lonelyhearts only picks up again with the stomping, digitally textured “Bottled Affection.” It’s an arching tune with an unleashing finish, and how about that title?
Even with all that said, quite possibly the most impressive part of Dear Miss Lonelyhearts is the ending 1-2 punch of “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts” and “Bitter Poem.” Both tracks are equally gorgeous and grand and feature prominent, touching lyrics on expectations and human impressions. On “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts,”Willett puts it best: “That was when we started fighting/ That was when I moved out/ That was just the beginning/ Look at me now.” During the wonderfully atmospheric finish of “Bitter Poem” the repeating emphasis is on the lyric, “Did you say that you’re happy for me?”
The expression “I’m happy for you” can either be said with the utmost sincerity, or it can be a response in conversation that is rather tacked on. Maybe it’s said with a hint of jealousy, resentment or even pity. Honestly, I’m not sure what’s the intended meaning of the expression in the song, but there is so much that goes unsaid when “I’m happy for you” gets said. To hear the Cold War Kids push it to the forefront and beat out the magnitude of meaning, makes for a phenomenal finish to a fantastic album.
The “Miss Lonelyhearts” concept offered a fresh approach for the Cold War Kids on their latest album. However, I wouldn’t read too much into a “concept album” label. The Cold War Kids are just doing what the Cold War Kids have always done—meaningful, soulful, engaging rock n’ roll. Don’t miss out on Dear Miss Lonelyhearts. Now, more than ever, it’s time to catch the whole show— welcome back to the Cold War Kids.