So the Cold War Kids sold out. At least that seems to be the narrative. It seemed too good to be true: a band from Long Beach, Calif. laden with Salinger references, pounding slightly out-of-tune pianos, railing against women and God and law. Nathan Willet’s nasal vibrato led a ragtag band into the breach. Its tales of dysfunction, its instability was its beauty. With Mine Is Yours something is now right with it and the result is oh so wrong.
When Cold War Kids embarked on its first nationwide tour in 2007 a poet would read a few words before each set. On “Robbers” the tacit Matt Maust would shine a flashlight, illuminating the faces of the audience, Willett and Jonnie Russell would ram shoulders on an almost empty stage. Now it all seems painfully out of place.
In Mine Is Yours, Cold War Kids have gone from monochrome to “Royal Blue,” the latter being its most concerted attempt at pop on the album.
Yes, Cold War Kids is singing pop songs. But they’re not even good Pop songs. “Royal Blue” isn’t a terrible track, but something about Nathan Willett abandoning his heart-wrenching howl and trying to sing sweetly is like Morrissey singing Metal. Listeners want abusive daddies, no chance of recovering and love and hate tattooed on knuckles. It doesn’t take but the first song of the album to realize something is amiss. “Mine Is Yours” features electronic, tape-delayed, Bono-esque wailing with too much reverbaration. Call it conservative, but if one can somehow stomach the forty-five minute leviathan that follows, they deserve a medal.
Listeners want nothingness; the sparse, ragged edges and hard-luck stories. They want those lovable chroniclers of the dregs. Songs about human cruelty are preferred over songs about date nights. “Finally Begin” ends like The Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There For You.” Is this some kind of elaborate joke? “Louder Than Ever” is also reminiscent of the pop rock stuff that was on the radio more than a decade ago.
Cold War Kids used to be raw.
It only hurts so much because we know what the band is capable of. The epitome of that classic Cold War Kids sound is the guitar solo on “We Used to Vacation;” a bitter, arrhythmic and slightly out of tune maniacal flailing. Its imperfection made it that much more real. There were, at the very most, four elements to each song on Robbers & Cowards. Mine Is Yours features that same band stagnating in artificial, and perfectionist air with multiple-part arrangements and arena-ready anthems.
Now it’s Willet’s mom “going out with (his) best friend’s Dad.” “Sensitive Kid” features heavily-filtered drums, synthesizers and just about no lyrical depth saying, “Don’t call me the sensitive kid.” The song also features a totally contrived anthem like sing-along at the end “I can’t tell you why/ I shoulda known it/ Sensitive kid started acting like a grownup.”
Willett talked with Rolling Stone about a desire to evolve like R.E.M. into a more accessible and yet profoundly influential band. If that’s not a confession that Cold War Kids abandoned its guns for commercial success, what is?. It’s possible this is just a phase. Maybe the band had a little identity crisis like an adolescence. But this is its third full-length album, and someone’s mind needs to be made up.
When “Audience” dropped, like, yesterday, things were looking optimistic. Now that EP seems like a disclaimer or an apology ahead of time.