He was looking for a band and then he found a band, and heaven knows he's miserable now. Except that Jez Williams -- contrary to popular belief among the fans and critics who adore his UK art-pop band, Doves -- is not. In fact, reflecting on the group's upcoming gig in San Francisco, he sounds downright giddy. "The Fillmore!" he exclaims, ringing in from Germany. "We've played there twice. It was an honor to play there; so many great bands have played there. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the Velvet Underground. It's gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous."
Curb your enthusiasm, Jez. You've got a rep to protect.
We ugly Americans have a certain image of the UK: ugly. Crap weather, crap politics, crap food, crap lifestyle. Dour exports from Radiohead to the Streets and, most convincingly, the Smiths have confirmed this perception of endless rain and woe. But perhaps we misread them. "Bands like the Smiths were always, 'Oh, miserable, miserable band,'" Jez protests. "But they're not. I don't get it. What I get from it is pure humor, uplifting music. Everyone's interpretation is different."
Is "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" secretly hilarious? Why, yes, Jez would argue. And he'd argue even more vehemently that Doves -- no "the," thanks -- don't deserve the über-moper tag well-meaning fans and critics have pasted on them. They can't be miserable, people: They're from Manchester! "There's definitely a bit of that about -- people kind of romanticize the gloominess," he says. "But to be honest, Mancunians are not gloomy at all. They're humorous and upbeat. All right, it rains a little bit more, but no more than Seattle. When we released our first album, Lost Souls, critics kind of did tarnish us as monster miserablists. And once you get that kind of association, it's quite hard to shake off."
As out-of-nowhere debuts go, 2000's Lost Souls is hard to shake off, whether you find it beautiful or monstrously miserable. All by itself, "The Man Who Told Everything," an orchestra-inflected ballad with more pathos than a thousand Best Actress Oscar acceptance speeches, set these guys up for deification before anyone even realized who they were. Jez, Andy Williams, and frontman Jimi Goodwin started out as a Madchester-era dance music braintrust called Sub Sub, best known for the 1993 disco hit "Ain't No Love, Ain't No Use." But a late-'90s studio fire wiped out most of the band's equipment, not to mention a healthy chunk of an upcoming album. On a whim, they opted not to replace their melted drum machines. Instead, they completely reinvented the band.
"The biggest change is that it wasn't three of us fighting for a mouse," Jez recalls. "We've all got our own instruments. The massive spontaneity can obviously give much more than three guys around the same computer. It's just frustrating. That's why Sub Sub morphed into Doves -- we could play instruments before, but we'd just decided to do dance music."
But now, armed with an innate sense of moping British majesty -- and all the moody guitars, studio trickery, and lyrical melancholy that implies -- Doves have generated three of the most staggeringly outsized UK art-pop epics the 21st century has yet wept over. And although this year's Some Cities lacks the If Sensible People Controlled Radio megahits that both Lost Souls and 2002's The Last Broadcast had in spades -- the thunderous "Catch the Sun" and "The Cedar Room" from the former, gospel choir-caliber anthems "There Goes the Fear" and "Caught by the River" from the latter -- it's a worthy edition to the canon, and proof of Doves' Oscar-worthy emotional range.
In this vein, "Black and White Town" chews plenty of scenery, a bouncy Joe Jackson piano-pop number about getting the hell outta Dodge -- There's no color and no sound, Goodwin howls in his Everybloke croon. So Manchester's not so hot, then? "We don't necessarily want to escape it -- we're just quite happy to leave it for a bit," Jez clarifies. "And when you do leave it, you miss it in a kind of strange old way. It's a love/hate thing."
Elsewhere, Some Cities' black-and-white narratives are as startling and evocative as Raging Bull or even Sin City -- "Almost Forgot Myself" leans on a strutting Motown bassline; "The Storm" is an arty maelstrom of keyboards reminiscent of Air's supreme make-out album Moon Safari; "One of These Days" is a power-drumming, feedback-snarling Whoa Dude rock number; and "Snowden" seems to embody all these qualities at once, with more ecstatic moments of climax than, well, uh, never mind.
Critics love it. Message-board fan geeks are freaking out over it. DJs are unjustly ignoring it. ("Radio is a big mystery to us over there," Jez admits.) And at the Fillmore, Doves will play the hell out of it, at long last -- a band illness drove them to postpone their first scheduled stop here in early May. But perhaps that pathos will only add to the catharsis now: Jez and his mates specialize in emphasizing the joy over the melancholy, while acknowledging that the band's unique appeal involves carefully mixing the two. The resulting racket promises to be glorious, absolutely glorious. Monster miserablists of the world, unite and take over.
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