Once upon a time bands could wait a few albums before having a hit — U2, REM and Nirvana among others. This allowed artists to grow, change and most importantly experiment. These days, with the great contraction of the music business, bands-without-hits are signed and dropped faster than ever; many are never signed at all.
This makes California’s Cold War Kids something of an anomaly. While “Hang Me Out To Dry” from 2006’s Robbers & Cowards was a minor hit for the band, the group seemed to lack the commercial muscle to stick around. Nevertheless they persisted, and with their fourth record, 2013’s Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, Cold War Kids continue to grow and refine their sound.
There’s something akin to Maroon 5 about Cold War Kids. Lead vocalist Nathan Willett’s strangely feminine tenor has a lot of soul and R&B about it. Think a punk rock Sam Cooke or Adam Levine, minus Stevie Wonder and add The Pixies.
Lonelyhearts opens with the fantastic “Miracle Mile” — power-pop keyboards lead into a chorus that, in a just world, would be an instant radio hit. Willett even nods to some unfulfilled expectations when he sings: “I was supposed to shoot for fame/ I had the safety on.”
Elsewhere, “Loner Phase” pulsates with an infectious electro beat, and ballads like “Fear and Trembling” suffer from odd artistic choices like corny saxophone solos straight out of Wham!. Willett’s voice remains a somewhat limited tool without an energetic backdrop — something I once felt about Kings of Leon’s Nathan Followill. But given the chance to evolve, Kings of Leon won a Grammy. Maybe Cold War Kids will one day too.
Cold War Kids play with Superhumanoids 8 pm Sunday, May 19, at WOW Hall; $15 adv., $18 door.