When hype fails
Niki and the Dove’s Instinct is an album with a great sound and quite a lot of great songs. On Sunday it entered the UK album charts at #60. In the week with the lowest album sales for 16 years, no less. Looking at The Cribs’ numbers at #56 there, Instinct likely sold fewer than 2,000 copies.
I think this is notable not because of some belief that bands that I love deserve to be big successes. I got over that years ago. Not because I think they sound like a guaranteed success either. If you’d told me a year ago when I first discovered “DJ, Ease My Mind” and its dark rumblings and primal urging that they were going to get a #60 album I would have thought “Really? That high?”.
However, things have changed since then. They’ve had a top 5 placing in the Sound of 2012 poll and four songs Radio 1 playlisted. They have had the sort of push that really ought to have enabled a better result than this. The plan, I guess, was that they could build on the initial critical excitement about them to cross over to an mainstream audience. Not to overstate the similarities between the two, but Marina and the Diamonds’ #1 album a couple of weeks ago suggests an appetite for ambitious and dramatic alt-pop out there.
I’m willing to trust the average Jukebox scores over my own thoughts and think that “Tomorrow” wasn’t a bad enough single to be responsible. The moves to court a mainstream audience just haven’t worked to any great extent. Maybe because those moves have all been happening in presentation; these are still the same songs. Meanwhile, all of the radio play and the articles casting them in a lineage of effortlessly cool Swedes like Mohombi and Ace of Base may have helped to push away the critical approval that was there to begin with and cut away some of the audience that that could have got them too. Most of the album reviews I’ve seen being distinctly middling.
I wonder about something else too, though. I didn’t actually say it was a great album at the start of the post because I’m not sure that it is yet. Having already been listening to so many of its songs for a long time is a terrible set up for approaching any debut album as a complete piece - I’ve found the same thing with Clock Opera recently. Without even any new mixes, Instinct is a jumble of songs which I am familiar with every detail of, songs which I know quite well and songs which I don’t know at all, all rubbing up against each other slightly jarringly. So far, all of the stand-outs still fall into the first two categories. Worst of all, it has “Under the Bridges” as the last track and cuts it off in its prime, making for a really deflating ending. Some of the comments in reviews make me think that others have had the same problem and that putting too much good material out too early could actually have undermined their campaign, as ridiculous as it sounds.