The most difficult thing about making an utterly sublime album is the (sometimes insurmountable) task of making the next one. Doves has a lot to live up to with the group's newest release, The Last Broadcast, coming as it does on the heels of 2000's Lost Souls, a near-masterpiece of dreamy droning Brit-pop pomp that's easily one of the most impressive releases of the last few years. So how to make the best better? For Doves, the answer seems to be sit back, relax and shift direction. Last Broadcast abandons the bulk of Souls' grinding, hypnotic sway and adopts instead a melodic optimism, with bright and sentimental harmonies that reflect the satisfaction of a once-struggling band finally realizing a long-sought goal. Critical acclaim, commercial success and a Mercury Prize apparently have a way of cheering you up.
With the High Llamas' Sean O'Hagan taking good care of the sweeping orchestrations and members of Doves producing close to all of Broadcast's dozen tracks, the transition from dark to light comes off as a surprising success. "Out with the somber meditation and in with the jubilant bliss" is the order of the day here, and the album is colored throughout with a kind of swaying, jovial prettiness. The opener, "Words" (which follows a nearly inaudible intro), is led by sweetly bright guitar and lead vocalist Jimi Goodwin's soulful, swooping wail. Next up is "There Goes the Fear," an achingly gorgeous love song with a quiet lullaby chorus and a nice percussive experiment as its finale.
There are hints of Northern soul and Doves' Mancunian roots over all of Broadcast (with Smiths, New Order and Joy Division influences worn straight on the sleeve), but despite the nods, the band is obviously stretching the boundaries. There are rock epics such as "Pounding" and giddy pop tracks like the title song and tunes such as "M62" and "Friday's Dust," which flirt on the edges of acoustic earnestness and down-home folk. There's something simple and endearingly childlike about Broadcast, a sensitivity that never gets lost in indulgent introspection. This easy accessibility may appear thin compared with Lost Souls' heady depths, but, on a closer look, it seems appropriate. Doves has merely made the happy discovery that joy can be just as inspirational as suffering.