Album Review: Doves – The Universal Want

[EMI; 2020]

It’s been over a decade since the last time Manchester’s Doves released a proper record. Missing the 2010s entirely seems to have rejuvenated them though, as they return with The Universal Want, a collection of songs that feel like a natural next step left untapped following Kingdom of Rust in 2009. 

During their initial run, Doves were never one-dimensional, even if they were often lumped in with the sad-boi Britpop that was seemingly everywhere in the 2000s. Instead, the band conveyed this sense of being brittle but steadfast, pairing it intelligently with punctuated rhythms. Now in 2020 we find them resuming that lineage.

Every track on The Universal Want has a warmth to it that is absent on most reunion albums. The trio are more dedicated to this record than they perhaps seemed on their last one, now that they’ve had a breather from each other. Jez Williams has stated in interviews that The Universal Want came together more organically from pieces they couldn’t find a home for on Kingdom of Rust, which is evident in how much of a continuation it feels like.

Sleek production on songs like “I Will Not Hide” come across as a band putting the time and effort into their music to have it stand out from those acts they were often compared to. Often, this is a resounding success, like on the surf-rock-tinged comeback single and album opener “Carousels”, which finds lead singer Jimi Goodwin longing for those old days where things were simpler.

It’s odd to think that the last time Doves were active things were a bit simpler in the world. America was in the early stages of the Obama years, and the United Kingdom didn’t know what Brexit was. And while the band members have been active elsewhere, Doves return to a new world and feel fresh-faced to a new generation of listeners. Nothing on The Universal Want comes across as overtly political, but it does come with baggage, “There’s a light but no one’s home / You can hear the silence drone / A little artificial bliss,” Goodwin bluntly moans on “Broken Eyes”.

Not all of the messages on The Universal Want are as bleak. “I will not yield / I will not hide,” they affirm in “Will Not Hide”, while on “Prisoners” Goodwin offers sentiments of hope with regard to self-care: “We’re just prisoners of this life / Although we won’t be for long.” He’s right, we’re actually freer than we think, and when he asks “Could you face your fears?” the bright musical accompaniment suggests a positive response. Meanwhile on “Cathedrals of the Mind” he speaks to the remembrance of a loved one who may be gone but is never forgotten: “Cathedrals of the mind / searching for a sign / And you’re never lost in mine / in cathedrals of the mind.”

“Cycle of Hurt” might be the most poignant on the album, once again reflecting on a meaningful personal bond. “You were always the one to get there first / While I’ve been sleepwalking since my birth,” Goodwin admits, continuing: “I need to end this cycle of hurt” – a line that rings true for the whole world right now. Around the globe, people are hurting – locked in cages, short of food, quarantined with abusers, victims of their addictions. It’s this actual cycle of hurt that Doves are directly, with no fluff, tackling on The Universal Want – a record that definitely won’t win awards for being the most experimental or complex, but may just win the hearts of those who need it the most right now.

The human race has spent the last decade since Kingdom of Rust under this insurmountable pressure, a guillotine of xenophobia, bullying, resentment, and disgust. Doves aren’t fixing anything with The Universal Want – all of those feelings of regret aren’t going to go away by listening to an album – but they are lending their voices to vicariously help one another cope with this existence. And, if they can get us to crack a smile every once in a while, or nod in agreement, or a shed tear of hope, that’s enough for them.