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Album review: Cold War Kids, 'Dear Miss Lonelyhearts'

 *** (out of four)

If the “concept” behind Cold War Kids’ “concept album” “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts” is returning to the California band’s original sound--indistinguishable on 2011’s “Mine is Yours”—the new record is a success.

OK, the disc actually is inspired by Nathanael West’s novel “Miss Lonelyhearts,” but CWK seems to have bridged the gap between 2008’s brilliant “Loyalty to Loyalty” and the hollow, overproduced “Mine is Yours.” A few outliers keep “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts” from being a thundering re-realization of the band’s earlier sound, led by Nathan Willett’s gorgeous and sometimes haunting vocal range and the group’s ability to bring scenes to life in their lyrics. The peppy, forgettable “Miracle Mile” gets things off to a rocky start, as if to say, “This is the one they’ll play on the radio, I guess.”

“Lost that Easy” and “Loner Phase” follow, with synth- and electronic-heavy noise that falls short of backing Willet’s always-on crooning.

The rest of the album, though, provides a nostalgic reminder of what makes Cold War Kids work. “Tuxedoes”—the record’s highlight—offers a hauntingly lonely portrait of a stag wedding guest struggling with his place. A chorus of “When will I find someone to take? / Or did I find, and not realize I was a fake?” punctuates a sad and gorgeous introspective journey of the type of track the band does notoriously well. The remainder of the album doesn’t let up, bouncing from the impossibly catchy “Jailbirds” to the subtle, piano-driven “Water and Power.”

The album is less a concept and more a statement that the band is still capable of their earlier sound, and it’s the striking difference between “Lonelyhearts” and “Mine is Yours” that makes the refreshing return to CWK’s roots that much better.

In concert: 9 p.m. Sat. at Metro. Sold out.

mswasko@tribune.com


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