Review: Cold War Kids’ latest album works with many genres, none more present than pop

The Cold War Kids music video for the '4th of July' (Photo via YouTube.)

Cold War Kids — who you may know from their 2014 hit, “First” — released their latest album, New Age Norms 1, on Friday. The group released two singles back in June, “Complainer” and “4th of July” and then another in September, “Waiting For Your Love.”

This is just part one of a trilogy, with the other parts set for release throughout 2020. The band, inspired by Kanye West, wanted to release multiple albums with only eight songs each, according to a 2019 Billboard article. The group wanted to create something more short-form to make its music fun and breezy for audiences to enjoy. As such, the whole album is just under 30 minutes.

Cold War Kids experimented with a new sound on every track. However, it’s not cohesive — it jostled me around faster than I could say “new age norms” three times in a row. The songs can stand on their own, each with a note of “I hope this is good enough for prime radio.” But because of this, no song really stands out as the best of the album. 

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The opening track, “Complainer,” starts with a smooth synth beat complemented by a horn ensemble. The song has a very pop funk vibe, like Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars had a song baby. But the message of the song conflicts with its tune. The lyrics “You say you want to change this world/ Well, do you really believe in magic?/ But you can only change yourself/ Don’t sit around and complain about it” just don’t match up with the almost sensual beat during the verses. 

The next song, “Fine Fine Fine” is a complete 180, sounding like a country song that’s just mainstream enough to hear on the radio. I can already hear the high school freshmen mindlessly singing this during their lunch period, without fully understanding that the song is about staying old rather than being young again. 

“Waiting For Your Love,” one of the singles, originally reminded me of “Doses and Mimosas” by Cherub, because of all the “ah”s in the opening rhythm. Because of this, I found it the most out-of-place number on the work. Surprisingly, the song never picks up further than the beginning beat, making it one of the more boring tracks. 

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I’ll give lead singer Nathan Willett credit on his ability to change his vocals, depending on the mood of the song. The transformation he makes from “Fine Fine Fine” to “Calm Your Nerves” and then “Tricky Devil” keeps the album fresh.

My main issue with New Age Norms 1 is not that it moves from genre to genre, but that it doesn’t take each genre seriously enough. Every song is infused with the classic pop beats that make it digestible for the regular listener. This is all fine and good if Cold War Kids’ goal is to gain another 15 minutes of mainstream fame before returning to the shadows. 

I won’t go as far to say the classic cliche that music is art and shouldn’t be exploited just for fame and money. I just think it’s silly that Cold War Kids — a band with one pop hit — to put all their eggs in the pop basket when they should be focusing more on their indie-rock vibe.

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