This record kicks of with classic Cold War Kids swagger; furious piano-bashing and the maniacal air of a band who know what they do best, and are happy to revel in it. But to the discerning ear there are subtle hints that Dear Miss Lonelyhearts is not business-as-usual for the band. For starters, the guitar work here sounds massive. One of CWK’s defining features has always been the angular, caustic nature of the guitar playing, but on this record — and particularly on opener Miracle Mile — the guitar sounds considerably more produced, more considered, more punchy. Where early Cold War Kids records went for the neck, this one aims for the gut.
An obvious explanation for the change in sound is the change in personnel. Veteran axe-man Jonnie Russell has left the band, to be replaced by former Modest Mouse guitarist Dann Gallucci, who also handles the production duties for Dear Miss Lonelyhearts. Aside from the change in guitar treatment, Gallucci may well — in his role as producer — be behind the other shift in sound, too. There’s an undercurrent of pulsing, synthetic, ominous electronica that swirls under many of the tracks; never dominating, but surfacing from time to time like the uneasy ghost of Giorgio Moroder’s younger-self.
As for the songwriting, there’s a previously-unseen euphoric vein being tapped here. Whether or not singer Nathan Willett is actively planning to lead his band into more directly commercial territory, the accessibility of the songs here certainly hints that this might be the case. Mercifully for die-hard Cold War Kids fans, this new-found hummability adds plenty but takes away nothing; there’s been no obvious compromise, and nothing vital has been lost. It’s tempting to think, perhaps, that this may be Cold War Kids at their very best.