Kingdom of Rust
In his late Victorian era sonnet “God’s Grandeur,” Gerard Manley Hopkins describes the effects of the British industrial revolution on the natural world: “And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; / And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil / Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.” But the lineaments of the natural order are still present: “And for all this, nature is never spent; / There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” Kingdom of Rust, the most recent release by Manchester rockers, Doves, adds a soundtrack to that longstanding tension between man and his environs. In that landscape of oxidized iron and crumbling concrete, then, we find an analogous, wistful dimension in the human mind: Memories of lost love may corrode, but never fully disintegrate. It is here that Doves triumph—residing in the Kingdom of Rust.
Although their fellow countrymen and rockers Coldplay have led the most recent British Invasion of the United States with their crooning power ballads, the often overshadowed Doves deserve America's fickle attention. Building on the solid foundation laid by critically acclaimed albums The Last Broadcast and Some Cities, Kingdom of Rust is Dove’s most mature and accomplished album to date. But before they joined the ranks of the Britpop wave with Blur, Elbow, The Beta Band and other compatriots, Dove’s three man outfit donned the moniker Sub Sub, an electro band whose "Ain't No Love (Ain't No Use)" enlivened U.K. dance floors. Unfortunately for the Madchester scene, though, an electrical fire in 1995 destroyed their recording equipment and consequently their discotheque origins. In 2000, they changed musical directions and emerged from the ashes of their synth-pop careers as Doves with the ethereal Lost Souls.
Fourteen years after their rebirth, pounding apparitions of Sub Sub still appear on their album Kingdom of Rust. Though certainly not a dance album, throbbing, telltale beats drive its songs. On the first track, “Jetstream,” drummer Andy Williams’s propeller-like beat initiates the gears and cogs of the album while brother Jez Williams’s guitar mimics the rise and fall of a jet engine. Lead vocalist Jimi Goodwin intones, “I’ve seen the silent jets at night / I will meet you there / The roar of the engine high in the air.” People the world over are in motion; their sense of time blurs as they move forwards and backwards through time zones, and the song seems to suggest that these travelers will perpetually be caught between departing and arriving.
The album’s title track further descends into a landscape marked by the architecture of modernity, as “blackbirds flew in / And to the cooling towers.” It is in this haunted physical place where the emotional landscape of love and loss are first figured. Swelling string arrangements augment the beauty of a lover retracing his steps, even as unnatural, electronic beats punctuate it—effectively marrying the song’s form to its meaning. The travel log “10:03” completes the effect, blending lyrical dexterity with the incurable longing for home. Board the train, watch the landscape—“A trick of light / Crossing my eye / A skyward plane”—and wait to arrive. But as the song nears its pinnacle and the reunion of the traveler with the elusive destination of home approaches, the track splinters and scatters into a frenetic and ghostly chanting that suggests that arrival is not possible, only the longing for it.
The unblemished past and its attendant sentiments for which the album so nobly longs, erupt in the penultimate song, the funhouse, stomp-frenzy “House of Mirrors.” Here, the current Britpop incarnation of Doves most recalls the strong sense of beat of Sub Sub. On this track, the mind, besieged by perpetual fragments of its past, requires a millennial tarantella, a purging of impurity. The song commends motion to your body; it recommends you dance: “And it's time for me to come and stay / Now it's time for me to find a way.” The album’s final track, “Lifelines,” combines a catchy rhythm with dark and brooding lyrics, a familiar pattern to fans of Doves previous catalog. Sonically, the track suggests a hopeful resolution; lyrically, however, the elements of soil and fire have transmogrified. “Oh,” Goodwin laments, “The fires that you made and the earth that you walk / The ground beneath and the words that you talk / ... / All gone....” Mournfully, he proclaims, “Somebody’s giving in but I’m not.”
Kingdom of Rust sets the man-made world a spinning and watches it go; you are seated on the morning train peering out the window as the landscape changes, or you are on the seashore as a jet passes overhead. Either is fine. You dwell in the kingdom of rust, with the mobile—jet, train, or car—and the fixed—a wintry hill or the English skyline. The world is a sublime patchwork of both, and the album, with its beautiful amalgam of mechanical and electronic pops and hisses, swells of strings, and transcendent beats, sings its song.