The 1990s were a halcyon time for mainstream alt-rock, an era that had no problem embracing jazzbos such as Soul Coughing and Morphine and other genre-defying acts. A nod to that experimental spirit is the only explanation for the recent crossover success of the Cold War Kids. The band’s new album, Loyalty to Loyalty, is completely antithetical to everything in the mainstream right now (except maybe for the Black Keys). Velvet-lined piano, jazz-influenced instrumentation and vocalist Nathan Willett’s strained soul-yowls drive moody vignettes which conjure smoky cabarets and afterhours jazz jams, instead of dingy rock clubs.
Occasionally, Loyalty succeeds: The smoldering, Yo La Tengo-like opening track “Against Privacy” employs a pleasing dry-brushed drum sound, syncopation and spare blues guitars, while “Dreams Old Men Dream” and “Every Valley is Not a Lake” capture the throttling fury of The Walkmen. Too often, though, Loyalty features songs such as “Avalanche in B” and “Every Man I Fall For,” which become so mired in atmosphere, angst and a meandering tempo that boredom sets in. Even worse, irritation replaces apathy on the yelping, bluesy first single “Something is Not Right With Me” and “Cryptomnesia,” a stab at a sensitive jazz croon that fails.
Loyalty is an admirable attempt to bend expectations and blend styles—but it’s also mostly forgettable