If I told you that I once saw Cold War Kids perform at my middle school’s cafeteria when I was in seventh grade, would you believe me? No? Yes? Well, it’s true. See, on their 2006 debut, “Cowards and Robbers,” the indie rock band had a track titled, “Rubidoux,” named after a small town right next to UCR (now named Jurupa Valley) home to the hiking-friendly Mt. Rubidoux. I’ve been living in Rubidoux for about a year when this seemingly random and relatively unknown band decided to play a gig at our school because apparently some of the band grew up in the town, as alluded to in the song (“Drive to Rubidoux in the middle of the night / Bourbon and a pistol in the dash out of sight”). It was bizarre, but ever since then I’ve known Cold War Kids as that one band that played an intimate gig at my school.
Fast forward 10 years later, and Cold War Kids have had somewhat considerable success in the industry. They blew up with their previous studio effort, “Hold my Home” in 2014 with what is considerably their biggest single to date, the not-so-intimate-but-anthem-heavy, “First.” Now, the band is headlining their sixth studio effort “L.A. Divine” in what can be described as unfortunately, more of the same. It’s not bad for a band to keep their same sound as they go from record to record, but for a “mainstream” rock band like Cold War Kids, a little more variety would have been appreciated. In keeping more of the same sound, “L.A. Divine” becomes too safe of an album and, in the process, takes no creative risk — making it an album of no real standout hits.
No song exemplifies this further than “Can We Hang On?” the second track of the album. Featuring stomp-heavy percussion, reverb-infused guitar licks and anthemic lyrics, you’d almost think that you’ve heard the track somewhere else before. Oh, that’s right, it sounds oddly familiar to their mega-hit, “First” off their previous album. The band seems so hell-bent on replicating the success they had with “Hold my Home” that for it to happen they had to replicate the best hit off of that album. The song, and essentially the album as a whole, is the sequel to their 2014 effort. And while it seems logical to replicate the song that boosted you into the mainstream, it just comes as lazy and uninspired for the band.
“Can We Hang On?” is only a decent listen if you can forget how similar it sounds to their previous single and will no doubt be a staple at their live shows. Lyrically, the song explores how ill-fated time is and asks the question if love can last forever (“I think about the old days / What we’ve been through to survive / Do we get better with time?”). But for as anthemic as frontman Nathan Willet wants the song to be in order to achieve “mainstream hit” status, the similarities to their previous effort are just too much of the same. We don’t need another Linkin Park on our hands (I’m looking at you “What I’ve Done”/”New Divide.”)
For as grand as the band wants to be, the ironic part is that I much prefer their mellow songs than the try-hard hits the band wants to achieve. “LA River” is a short minute-long “acid trip” of a song featuring heavy distorted guitars that melee with a quaint guitar solo all to the Willet’s wailings of how great the titular river is. There’s a dreamy aesthetic to it that’s pretty pleasing.
The last song on the record, “Free to Breathe” is a great, mellow closer, featuring powerful lyrics that ask how can everything be alright if we live in such a tense, messed up world. It’s the most topical song on the album that is relevant to our times and Willet and crew manage to end the album with a sense of hope and urgency asking listeners (“Can you feel the tension? / If you’re not angry you’re not listening / World is changing”).
What this album taught me is that I enjoy Cold War Kids as a pretty intimate band. That’s how I first saw them when they performed at my middle school. Seeing them have success as an anthem-heavy band is great. But when they try too hard to replicate that success, it hurts them.
Verdict: Cold War Kids are not a bad band per se and it’s not bad for a band to keep the same sound, but for a band with a lot of potential, “L. A. Divine” is simply, just passable. Aside from very few highlights, there is nothing too much worth remembering from their sixth effort.