Cold War Kids plays it safe, lacks creative growth on ‘LA DIVINE’

Capitol Records/Courtesy
Cold War Kids LA DIVINE | Capitol Records
Grade: B-

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Cold War Kids exists in a rut of solid albums. The band’s recent release, LA DIVINE, is a collection of happy medium songs, compromising between kick drum pop and syncopated funk. As a band that has maintained a steadfastly alternative identity, content to sit on the lip of the mainstream but decidedly in the nongeneric-pop camp, the group’s complacency with its sound isn’t surprising, just disappointing.

Pop today is fast-tracking its evolution. The sounds of the past two years have swung in popularity, from Coldplay’s rhythmic “Hymn for the Weekend” to Ariana Grande’s sexy “Side to Side” to Taylor Swift and Zayn’s sing-along-able anthem “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever.” There is little place in the rapidly changing genre for a group that refuses to break outside of the mold that has guaranteed it average success.

That’s not to say the band members have existed completely immune to change; their grungy 2006 Robbers & Cowards is notably different from the modern funk of LA DIVINE. But their recent four year arc, after the release of Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, is plagued with a consistency that does little to commend their artistry. There’s nothing definitively wrong with the music on Cold War Kids’ latest albums; it just all lies in the same vein, indicating a creative mediocrity and lending its name a sense of tired experience.

LA DIVINE begins with the moody three-chord piano line of the opening track, “Love Is Mystical.” It flaunts a catchy chorus — “Love is mystical / Love will break the chains / you might feel invincible / And you might be afraid / Light in darkness will show you the way / Give you the power to believe again” that isn’t quite easy enough to sing along to, leaving the song sitting in the strictly danceable realm.

From there, the album moves to another drum-dominated melody in “Can We Hang On ?” Up against the heavy potential to sound pleading, the lyrics about a wilting relationship pleasantly surprise in their maturity and muted positivity. The third track, “So Tied Up,” spotlights a nice soulful strain in guitarist and lead vocalist Nathan Willett’s voice and features guest artist Bishop Briggs.

But all of it is achingly familiar. “First,” from Hold My Home, opens with a nearly identical guitar and drum melody to “Can We Hang On ?” “No Reason to Run” relies on the same-sounding upbeat piano line as “Miracle Mile” from Dear Miss Lonelyhearts. It isn’t that they’re identical; they have different chords and different lyrics, and Willett’s voice is sweeter and less strained in “Can We Hang On ?”. But the sound is the same. Listening to each set of opening bars in quick succession, it’s impossible not to notice the overlapping sounds of the songs.

The problem of unignorable similarity even lives within the tracks of LA DIVINE themselves. The middle of “Part of the Night” could be inserted into “Invincible” and you probably wouldn’t notice it was from a different song.

The conception of an album is far from easy; bands have to satisfy the polarizing demand to be original and new while refraining from abandoning the identity long-time fans want them to stay true to. So nuanced arguments in the context of the band’s past work and the work of other bands can seem exceptionally harsh compared to an isolated critique of the music — at the end of the day, Cold War Kids’ music is undeniably fun to listen to; you’ll probably be stuck humming the catchier melodies.

But the unfortunate fact remains that the world of pop music is growing and changing competitively fast. There isn’t a way for Cold War Kids to continue to be successful or even relevant unless its members make some changes to push their sound outside of the niche they’ve curled up in. Though seemingly unfair, there is no way to escape the context of other artists, and even of the band’s past, allowing comparisons to be made that decrease the enjoyment of listening to the group’s latest music.

Contact Olivia Jerram at [email protected].