The Black Keys proved you could play smart rock/blues/soul music (and people would eventually take notice with their monumental 2010), but Cold War Kids opted for the Kings of Leon route, dumbing things down in hopes of netting a bigger crowd. It worked for them, but it’s clearly going to be a bigger struggle for them, if “Mine Is Yours” is any indication, which is especially disappointing considering the progress of its 2009 EP, “Behave Yourself.”
The start is sharp enough, sonically moving to a more spacious but still comfortable place in the self-titled track and opener — a rousing, triumphant ballad built on the cheesy but effective holler and echoes of lead singer Nathan Willett.
The leadoff single, “Louder Than Ever,” continues that momentum and is especially on point, masterfully venturing into realm of pop-rock music while keeping the twists and quirks that endeared the band to audiences originally intact. The swampy and seductive “Royal Blue” and peppy “Finally Begin” keep pace before slowing with the overwrought “Out of the Wilderness” and bloated “Skip the Charades.”
The Kids rarely register above a four from here on out, hitting a low point with the awkward and disjointed “Sensitive Kid.” “Broken Open” is a bit better — if generic — but is hardly fit to patch the wound the dreary, last-half of “Mine Is Yours” leaves gaping open.
It’s not a bad album, musically speaking. The tones are good, production is top-notch, but all of it adds up to something that feels a bit empty and shallow, as if the band is torn between its ambitions and God-given talents.
Gone are the dysfunctional piano poundings, the piss-and-vinegar sermon cries courtesy of Willett. “Mine Is Yours” is better, but all the worse for it; the sweaty charm of early Cold War Kids is almost entirely gone and things are looking more and more like an uphill battle.
The smart ones just keep doing what they like doing, knowing the odds are others will like it, too. Hopefully, they learn that sooner rather than later. —Joshua Boydston