Doves – The Universal Want: Album Review

Doves return with The Universal Want; their first album in eleven years.

Released: 11th September 2020

Label: Virgin EMI / Heavenly Recordings

Format: CD / LP / Boxset / Digital

More than a decade since their last album release, Doves make their eagerly-anticipated return with The Universal Want. It does not disappoint. Whilst the album sees the band explore some new avenues, for the most part this record is seeped in atmospheric drama and the kind of allegorical and thought-provoking lyrics that will delight fans who have followed this band from the very beginning.

The album kicks off with the single Carousels, a fittingly triumphant return for such a revered band. This song has the trademark eerie atmosphere and hypnotic drums that many have been craving to hear. However, the best thing about this song is (as with most Doves tracks) Jimi Goodwin’s vocals, which have thankfully not diminished at all over the last decade.

Broken Eyes follows; a northern-soul enthused anthem that’s laced with Goodwin’s distinctive vocals, this is Doves at their melodic and self-reflective best. The smooth guitar walkdowns marry perfectly with the melancholic vocals. The string instrumentation at the end of the track make for a cathartic conclusion that feels like There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.

What is most striking about this album is the fullness and completeness of the sound. Songs like Cathedrals Of The Mind and Cycle Of Hurt have a distinct dub feel that is coupled with echoing, haunting vocals that make these tracks almost psychedelic at times.

Wedged between these two is Prisoners. This song is so good that it almost feels as though the Doves are showing off. Incredible bass guitar, droning vocals, and imagery heavy lyrics; all Doves’ hallmarks are present along with some delicious guitar riffs that just improve as the track progresses. This is a real highlight of the album. Could this be their best anthem since Black and White Town?

Mother Silverlake is another flavourful, psychedelic track. It shows the Doves in a vocal octave they’ve seldom used before as Goodwin shares the spotlight. At the risk of sounding cliché, this song is a perfect microcosm of the album. Doves have not altered their sound to the extent that it is unrecognisable; there is still the signature, distinctive feel of a Doves song, but with enough experimentation and embellishment to make it sound new and fresh.  

This seems to be the objective of the album. Drummer, Andy Williams, explained in our recent interview for At The Barrier (read here) that the title of the album is about “the eternal search for contentment; wanting the grass to be greener but that isn’t always the case”. You can certainly feel this in the way that the album is not a complete separation from the bands earlier work; just simply a refinement.

Even in the title track, Universal Want, you can feel a self-assuredness that you only find in a band who’ve perfected their sound. Here Doves have flecked their signature ethereal sound with glittering piano (a common theme throughout the album) and excellent string accompaniments.

Throughout this record they somehow manage to perfectly merge typical Northern understatedness with grandiose cacophonies of sound. For a band that primarily consists of only three members (they do employ a fourth regularly in live shows), it is an incredible feat to achieve such an accomplished and full sound.

The Universal Want feels like Doves have achieved everything that they wanted to with this album. It is a monumental return for a band that have definitely been undervalued in the music scene. With this album, Doves will hopefully get the recognition they duly deserve as one of Britain’s finest bands of the 21st century.

Listen to the dubby Cathedrals Of The Mind below. You can read our in-depth interview with Doves’ Andy Williams here.

Doves: Official Website / Twitter / Facebook

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