If you look for a Cold War Kids album in iTunes, you'll find it in the nebulous alternative category, which also houses mainstream rockers Coldplay and Pitchfork-lauded upstarts Surfer Blood. If you look for a Cold War Kids album in a record store, you're likely to find it in the indie rock section, not far from Guided by Voices and Sebadoh.
This isn't just a case of fuzzy semantics. It's a sign that Cold War Kids is trying to have its cake and eat it, too.
Wanting it all isn't so bad. In fact, that message springs from Cold War Kids' latest album, Mine Is Yours. As front man Nathan Willett puts it on "Flying Upside Down," "Ambition, man, she looks good on you." But ambition is a two-sided coin: It can distance a band from the people who fuel its success.
On Mine Is Yours, Cold War Kids, who perform at the Majestic Theatre Nov. 1, unveil an arena-ready sound that fits snugly between U2 and Kings of Leon. They even hired Jacquire King, producer of Kings of Leon's most recent album, to give Mine Is Yours a radio-friendly sheen. While Willett's voice sounded like a bluesy Jeff Buckley on the band's 2008 release, Loyalty to Loyalty, it takes on a Coldplay-esque lilt for Mine Is Yours.
This approach seems to be making new Cold War Kids fans, but many of the bloggers who catapulted the band into the spotlight in 2006 are less than impressed. The reaction has something to do with King's production values, but the more interesting question is why Cold War Kids asked him to produce the album. Perhaps this is how major labels cultivate mainstream appeal for indie artists, or perhaps this is what indie artists do so they have a good story to tell later, when they head back to their basements to found their own record companies. Either way, Cold War Kids have at least one more chapter to their rock 'n' roll saga.