Cold War Kids struggle for consistency on ‘Dear Miss Lonelyhearts’

A trend has emerged over the last few years in the rock/indie music scene, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Bands have been implementing more elements of dance music into their soundscape, from four-four bass drum thumps to repetitive trance-style synthesizers. While this is catchy and certainly the way the industry is swaying towards for higher digital sales, bands need to balance on a fine line between the new software elements and keeping that life of real instruments.

Cold War Kids are one of those bands that have been swept up by the times. Their fourth album, “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts,” glistens with sparkling elements of the dance music craze and yet still maintains the heart and soul the band has had since their beginning.

However, within the 36 minutes and change the album has, there isn’t anything on there that no one’s heard before. It breaks some new ground for the Cold War Kids standard, but it’s no breathtaking revelation. Like it’s been pointed out, this is a trend sweeping music in general, from rock acts to pop acts to country acts.

If you’re not a Cold War Kids fan, there’s a good chance you either loved or hated their 2006 single you couldn’t get away from, “Hang Me Up to Dry.” Since their craze as a hot new prospect and less-enthused sophomore and junior follow-up albums, they’re clearly hungry to walk that tightrope successfully, staying true to their songwriting and adding new techniques to the sound.

The narrative lyrics are often where the band has shined in the past. Debut album “Robbers & Cowards” was an album packed wall-to-wall with heartbreaking short stories of battling alcoholism, death sentences and isolation in hospitals. “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts” is more a conceptual record based around a novel by Nathanael West of an advice columnist who must learn how to take his own and examine himself.

The downside to the concept album in 2013 is a music industry based on digital downloads and singles. The iPod generation makes a collage on shuffle. Only the truly dedicated sit down to here the entire message, and sadly the attention span of listeners is getting shorter and shorter.

When they delve into the new elements of songs here, they send some mixed signals. Where “Loner Phase” has a strong placement of keyboards in the mix, the band still sounds loud and like part of the song. Tracks like “Bottled Affection” and “Lost That Easy” has the human parts shoved in the back and takes the life out of the track.

The one song you need to hear from “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts” is the lead single “Miracle Mile.” There’s a good probability you’ll hear it whether you seek it out or not. The driving piano of the track and signature wail of singer Nathan Willett is bound to appear on a commercial or movie trailer in the near future. It does what it’s aimed to do – get your foot tapping, and that will be exploited.

The album’s highest points are the ones with the high-octane injection of the piano Cold War Kids made part of their identity in 2006. While they’ve proven they can update their sound and stay true to themselves, they just haven’t been outlandishly impressive contenders. They’ve had their moments of brilliancy, but the learning curve for them needs to be how to sustain it for 10 whole tracks, which won’t get them more fans, and hardcore ones will be turned off by some of the changes the band strives to implement.