If you’re a fan of Cold War Kids, then chances are you joined the brigade because of songs like “We Used To Vacation”, “Hang Me Up To Dry”, and “Hospital Beds” (its always hard to choose a few). It’s been almost 11 years since Robbers & Cowards, arguably(and I’d be quite happy to argue this) THE Indie album of the 2000s, and the kids have come along way since. 5 more albums, and a ton of EPs and singles, Nathan and the gang have been prolific to say the least. Fans will note Loyalty to Loyalty, the follow up to their first album beat the curse of the sequels and delivered instant classics like “Something Is Not Right With Me”, “I’ve Seen Enough”, “Relief”, & “Dreams Old Men Dream”(Listing just 4 was actually painful).
They also stayed true to their EP roots (With Our Wallets Full, Up In Rags <3) and kept us happy with the exquisite Behave Yourself in 2010. Yes their music was more refined, and a far cry from the messy, one take type that we had grown accustomed to, but it was them. What made CWK who they were was clear with each track. The 2 Matt’s, Jonnie, and Nathan at their very finest, giving us an honest, emotional(“Sermons” especially), timeless experience that showed us that they weren’t going anywhere. But they did.
Mine Is Yours came just a year later and something was very different. The tracks were significantly Poppier, cleaner, and much more radio friendly. Jacquire King, the producer who was thankfully absent from Kings of Leon’s Because Of The Times, Sunk his hands into Cold War Kids and created a polished, rushed, and uninspiring introduction into mainstream music. This isn’t to say that I hated everything about this album, I try to find the good in anything Cold War Kids do, and the songs were definitely catchy but they were just that. Catchy songs that got stuck in your head, you’d sing along to them, but they weren’t earth shattering. They didn’t move me the way “God Make Up Your Mind Did”, they didn’t tell me a story I needed or even wanted to hear like “Passing The Hat” did. I missed them.
Then came Dear Miss Lonelyhearts 2 years later, and the kids came home. They came home but they were different, grown up, and didn’t want to do the things they used to love doing. At 10 tracks, produced in their home studio, the album seemed much more reminiscent of their early days, “Tuxedos” and “Bottled Affection” displayed Nathan’s incredible range and raw emotional power, “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts” told a story worth listening to, and “Miracle Mile” delivered a popping single, not their best album, but everyone’s happy and that’s enough for now. The follow up Tuxedos EP brought back some of that gospel influence of old and things were finally looking up.
The 5th album came in 2014, Hold My Home delivered the band’s first ever 1st place on the Billboard alternative songs chart, with the appropriately named “First.” The album had some decent songs like “Hear My Baby Call” but not much else. The song was over produced and the songs were forgettable. Looking for the bright side in songs I didn’t love, I would usually point to the lyrics which were usually poignant and sincere, but this album didn’t have much of that. At this point both Matt Aveiro and Jonnie Russel have left the band and I feel Nathan Willet and Matt Maust are struggling to keep the band’s identity alive despite the temptation to keep making chart toppers.
Fast Forwards past 5 Quick Cuts to 2017 and L.A. Divine, the Band’s latest album is good. But just good. The boys are happier than before, I mean yeah they hate Trump but their being productive and positive about it. They’re trying to shake people out of this funk and lift their spirits a bit and that’s better than what most are doing. The album is a bit preachy and a little extra, I might be a bit harsh because I’m from the Middle East, and everything seems a bit dramatic to me. The tracks on this album follow an almost routine formula, and are much too structured for the likes of Cold War Kids. “Can We Hang On?” has been on repeat since before the album came out, and it has all the best qualities of a modern Cold War Kids song.
“Love Is Mystical” is too poppy for my taste, and seems like an attempt at another chart topper. I’d also hate if I didn’t point out the obvious comparison to the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Heads Will Roll.” I liked “Luck Down” because it sounded familiar and the tracks had better lyrics, some catchy riffs, and they were honestly alright. It’s just they didn’t have that rewind and play it again type edge, they didn’t have that “damn…” factor, you didn’t feel the urge to tell someone that they had to listen to this.
I realize that they set the bar really high with the first EP and the first album, but its not like they disappeared after that. The second album was gold, the EPs kept coming strong and yeah they may have stumbled a bit on the way but they always gave me enough to keep me hooked. its hard for bands to maintain their sound, because they grow up and they change and its nostalgic to think they would always sound the way they did when you first heard them. They’re in a different place in their lives and it makes sense their art would be different. I wish Eminem would realize he’s an insanely popular and widely respected award winning rapper who’s super rich and famous and maybe he should stop being so angry and violent. Kim’s been gone forever and you got to keep Hailey so chill the fuck out.
Cold War Kids have inexplicably never reached super-stardom and have been opening for lesser bands for quite sometime. This unfortunately hasn’t afforded them the luxury of making the music I feel they still want to make. The National has somehow managed to keep things going with their last album Trouble Will Find Me being as good if not better than their earlier work which was amazing to start with. Radiohead stood the test of time with A Moon Shaped Pool which was long overdue. Local Natives are another example, as they’ve managed to innovate while retaining their identity with their latest album Sunlit Youth. Cold War Kids are heading down a Kings of Leon-esque path where you think they’re coming back thanks to Mechanical Bull But then you hear Walls and nothing is OK.
That being said, CWK are my favorite band and it isn’t just because they gave me those early albums, or because Nathan winked at me that one time at Sasquatch 2014, but its because they genuinely love making music and keep pushing themselves. They reminded us why we love them recently with Toulouse Ourselves which featured unreleased tracks. I just wish they’d release those tracks and go back to that minimalist, scratchy, soulful bluesy sound, for all the people who stayed.