Album Review: Doves - The Universal Want
Updated: Oct 25
It's been a decade since Doves "called it a day" but last year they embarked on a series of reunion shows which, inevitably, sold out. They were clearly missed. It was time for a return for the band who had forged a space for themselves in the UK's alternative music scene, creating a bridge for those crossing from the land of acid house to that of melancholic, yet uplifting, indie rock, producing some incredibly atmospheric tracks in the process.
When the vinyl copy of Universal Want landed on your reviewer's doorstep and the cardboard packaging ripped off, his breath was already taken away as the album's cover was revealed. It is a visual attack, its purple coasted image stunning. An attack of colour and that aforementioned atmosphere. The art work is a perfect summation of what lies between the record's grooves.
It is, however, a gentle opening that greets us but containing the production levels we’ve become used to with Doves. Eerie voices are summoned to repetitively state the album’s name. Soon the drums kick in, using a sampled Tony Allen afrobeat, as lead single Carousels bursts into life. This is the Doves we know and love, Jimi Goodwin's voice sounding as amazing as ever and the keys leading the soul-rising verse, elevating the listener towards heaven by the time we reach the chorus. It’s as hair-raising as it is spooky in places. It is a remarkable opening track.
Up next come I Will Not Hide and Broken Eyes, the former a complete dreamscape of a song, as if we are tripping across a night’s sky, surrounded by distorted guitars, catchy riffs and another looping drum track, while the latter serves a reminder of Doves albums of the past - it is a track that survives from the Kingdom of Rust sessions.
Another from those sessions is For Tomorrow, an R&B drum infused opening with the sense it could have been recorded in Harlem. A the outset it is a a darker, more down-beat sound, as Goodwin croons contemplations of the difficulty in believing things can or will get better - apt for these times. However, as ever with Doves it begins to elevate. This track has real soul. Beautiful production by former Cooper Temple Clause bassist Dan Austin, who the band collaborated with on Kingdom of Rust, coat Cathedrals Of The Mind, a dedication to David Bowie, with its synthesiser opening before wonderfully crafted guitars crack open. Another great looping drum beat supports the track as it slowly builds before dropping back down then rising again. The added voice samples over the top are reminiscent of The Last Broadcast, but with more electronica influences.
Prisoners is vintage Doves. The second single from the album that's been doing the rounds in the radio for a while is a stomping track. Gorgeous opening vocals, a hectic pace and pulsating drums. It’s a track you simply can’t escape from and smashes open the album’s b-side. The backing vocals are spine-tingling, as are Goodwin's when he sings 'if you gotta believe in someone don't make that person me, if you gotta let go of something then let go of me!' It's this reviewer's stand out track, as it deals with mental health and the loss of a relationship but in the elegant and powerful way that only Doves know.
It's tough to reach those heights again as we enter Cycle of Hurt. More voice samples welcome us, accompanied by another lovely guitar lick. This is a track all about the musicianship, especially those psychedelic solos, it's magic carpet ride time before Mother Silverlake fades in, the guitar leading the charge once more on this up tempo track with its change of vocal sounds and flows into a late-80s house track with a sprinkling of afrobeat for good measure. It’s Doves of old and we take a stroll through autumn, searching for inner calm and strength. This track is definitely preparing us for the changing of the seasons.
We're now in closing stages and on to the title track, the piano taking centre-stage, supporting Goodwin’s incredible vocal performance. Instrumental elements are added as the track builds, reaching the heights of pure guitar rock in a Stone Roses style, using every part of the band to create a wall of sound. It’s Dove's career in reverse, throwing us back to Sub Sub as we go from ballad to acid house in just over 5 minutes.
We then reach the LP’s closer, Forest House. There is more top production value here, adding to that strummed intro before cutting away, giving the lyrics full attention. It’s a calming ending to the album, never taking off but not letting up. It eases us out, allows us to reflect on what came before.
The Universal Want is beautiful, emotional and, of course, atmospheric, drawing on multiple influences, including those of their own back catalogue and past musical lives. A return to form? No, I don't believe they ever lost it. A welcome return? Most definitely.