A Classic Universal Need – The Universal Want Review

A Classic Universal Need

There are those who say that I always hear the best in everything that Doves do –that I’m biased. Maybe so, but after a decade of not hearing anything at all, an epic, multi-layered Doves fart would sound good. But then again, would it? Maybe something new would deflate the years of yearning; fan out the flickering flames of affection.

It was with some trepidation, then, that I clicked play on iTunes to listen to The Universal Want for the very first time. I’d have liked to have pressed a ‘physical’ play button on the day of release, BUT THEN SOME D*CK AT THE DISTRIBUTOR FORGOT TO PUT A STAMP ON THE ENVELOPES.

Anyway, I’d already heard Carousels and publicly declared it to be ‘Doves at their most magnificent’. But was the track a one-off –a wicked teaser just to get us excited? Had the band pulled the wool over our eyes only to lull us into a false sense of security? Could Doves live up to what they’d given us before? The answer is a sweeping, swirling, rousing, fascinating, pulsating, driving, stirring, promising, comforting, saddening and astounding, YES.

Let me rein that in a little. The Universal Want is THE seminal work of three musical masterminds. It’s the best, most complete album since U2’s The Joshua Tree. Aherm…

Maybe I’ve lost it, but Carousels seems to have doused Firesuite as my favourite Doves opener. It is the story of Doves (‘round and round and round and round…’). Hatched before they last took a break (not for the first time, it must be said), The Universal Want’s opening track is a rhythmic, hypnotic number that takes us on a wistful journey. Driven by the late Tony Allen’s superb beat, it’s a sweeping hymn that hints at Doves’ stop-start lifespan. It certainly feels like a bit of melancholy –bringing us all back to where we used to be. Back to when things were really rather good with the world.

Similar to one of Doves’ last releases (Andalucía) the second track, I Will Not Hide is one that shuffles along nicely before transforming into a beautiful, swirling anthem. It’s the kind of song that drove me to Doves in the first place. It breaks into a wonderous guitar solo at the three-minute mark, which takes me back to the ‘good old days’ –the time I first fell in love with Doves. Swoon.

Aside from their musicianship, one of Doves’ greatest strengths is their sequencing. Much care has gone into the running order of The Universal Want. The rousing vocals and soaring strings of Broken Eyes ratchets things up at exactly the right time. It’s clear that Doves are not just going through the motions here. Fifteen years after first being born, Doves’ ‘Kinks-inspired’ track was revamped with ‘the help of clarity and distance of time’. There are bands that constantly strive to produce tracks like this. This is just another in a long line of Doves’ understated epics –one that was originally consigned to a hard drive.

For Tomorrow illustrates why The Universal Want will become a classic contemporary album. Recorded live, this piano-driven track is ‘psychedelia meets soul’. Halfway through, a fascinating lounge break takes us into territory that Jez describes as ‘unsettling’, before launching into a groove. ‘We will breathe again,’ cries Jimi. And so we will –despite our facemasks. This is Doves making us all feel that little bit better about things to come.

Slow, but pulsating, Cathedrals of the Mind is a beautiful ode to someone we lost at the time of its composition –David Bowie. This is a gorgeous track that briefly ventures into ‘dub’ territory, but still retains an otherworldly feel. Haunting and spine-tingling.

Prisoners is a driving tune and the album’s first single. The lyrics, ‘old friend, it’s been a while’, seem to sum up everything that’s preceded the release of The Universal Want. It’s a prescient reminder of what we’ve all been going through (‘in dusty halls… hollow shopping malls’). It is an anthem for our times.

The robotic words, ‘it’s a trap’ open and close the ‘dystopian’ Cycle of Hurt. There’s almost a Simple Minds’ Street Fighting Years vibe about this (Jez even seems to channel his inner Charlie Burchill). This is a stirring number written ‘off the cuff’ in just ten minutes. How can you compose something so striking in ten minutes? Therein lies the brilliance of this band.

So, we come to Mother Silverlake –in my opinion, the standout track on an utterly faultless album. Rocking beats, groovy bass, Soviet-synths, ghostly vocals. Despite its poignant inspiration (lost mothers), it’s an ethereal tune that moves at pace before being spliced by Jimi’s voice. It could have been co-written with Adamski and A Guy Called Gerald in the Haçienda around thirty years ago. Another ‘live’ number, according to Jez, it’s Doves’ ‘secret weapon’. If it doesn’t go on to become one of Doves’ most popular tracks, I’ll be surprised. It’s worthy of replacing ‘Space Face’ as a set closer, it’s really that good.

The title track, (minus the ‘The’) Universal Want is how music should be made. A comforting, slow-burner, it’s a song that wouldn’t sound out of place as a James Bond theme. A backing choir, bongos, rim shots and ‘acid’; it is where Doves have brought us back to –the best of times. We’ve now been taken full circle. Round and round and round…

The perfect album ends perfectly with the perfect Forest House. It brings to a gentle close the most astounding, accomplished piece of musical perfection since I can’t remember when (I might have over-egged The Joshua Tree). The Universal Want is an overture. It’s a body of work that is so good, it’s almost criminal not to hear it. Let’s hope that in a hundred years’ time, the universe will need Doves like the 21st Century ‘Beethovens’ they now are.

Am I too biased? Nah. I just know classical music when I hear it.

-Paul Bingley