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Over the past several years, Americans have grown accustomed to hearing rising stars on the British music scene make pompous pronouncements about everything from their talent level to their odds of success in the colonies. The standard setters in this regard are the men from Oasis, whose Liam Gallagher told Westword back in 1995 that the group's members were incapable of writing a bad song and deserved every bit of press attention being lavished upon them "because we're important." Gallagher added that he once believed in God, but "now I believe in me."
These days, the British press seems to have lost its collective belief in Oasis; the number of laudatory critiques about the combo has dipped considerably since the mid-'90s, as have the performers' fortunes. Instead, tastemaking scribes have thrown their weight behind Doves, an absorbing outfit whose central figures, twins Andy and Jez Williams plus cohort Jimi Goodwin, create widescreen rock that's alternately melodic and anthemic. New Musical Express labeled a March 16 Doves live review "The Second Coming" -- nothing like a casual reference to Jesus Christ to up the ante -- and concluded an April 13 story prompted by the band's new disc, The Last Broadcast, with traditional understatement: Writer James Oldham called the CD "the sound of liberation, a monumental record that will soundtrack this year and beyond. You get the feel that even the band themselves haven't come to terms with just how astonishing it is. They, like the rest of the world, though, shouldn't be in the dark for long."
Given that praise of this sort is generally reserved for saints and martyrs, Andy Williams (no relation to the "Moon River" crooner) could be excused for allowing his head to swell a size or three. But during a conversation he conducts on a cell phone during a bumpy bus ride in his homeland, he comes across as friendly, eager to please and thoroughly modest.
"We're not so naive as to think we can break America in one or two tours," he says. "It's not as easy as that. And we've never wanted to go out and blow our own trumpet, really. We want the music to do the talking, and if people like it, that speaks volumes."
So, too, does Williams's response to the headline NME slapped on its most recent in-print tribute -- "How They Became the New Radiohead" -- and simultaneous attempts to liken Doves to a band Jez refers to in the article as "U fucking 2."
"It's irritating," Andy concedes, "because we try our utmost to have our own songs, our own style. Not that U2 is a bad band. You have to respect them in a lot of ways. And we really respect Radiohead. But even if both bands use technology and have some intelligence in them, we're very different from them, and we have different backgrounds. That's why it's too easy to say 'They're the new Radiohead.' To me, that's just lazy journalism."
True enough, since Doves have plenty of history worth exploring. The Williams boys came of age in Manchester, an English community that's associated with a slew of bands that made marks in the '80s and '90s, including the Stone Roses, Charlatans UK and, coincidentally, Oasis. Although they were twins, they weren't forced to dress alike, and neither did they engage in "twin talk," a secret language some multiples develop that makes perfect sense to them but sounds like gibberish to the rest of the world. The closest he and Jez come to this form of communication, Andy jokes, is "after about ten pints of lager." But, he adds, "We've always been very close. Of course, I used to fight with him occasionally, but very rarely. We generally got along very well; we were our own gang, really."
They grew even closer after discovering rock and roll. "We had an older brother who was really into music, and we picked up on that very early, when we were like seven or eight. And from then on, it was really an obsession. There were a couple of times when one of us liked bands the other one hated. There'd be the odd record where one of us would go, 'What are you into that for? That's bloody awful!' But generally, we were both into the important bands" -- a list that runs the gamut from the Jimi Hendrix Experience to Manchester's own New Order.
On the surface, Goodwin would seem to be on the outside of this relationship looking in -- but Williams, who's been mates with the third Dove since age fifteen, denies it. "I think we're musically very much on the same wavelength, and that goes for all three of us. I've been playing with Jez for about twenty years and with Jimi for about twelve years. So a lot can go unsaid, which is good."
As the three were evolving from music fans to music makers, Manchester became known as a rave mecca -- and before long, they were up to their necks in the movement. Operating under the name Sub Sub, they hit number three on the British charts with "Ain't No Love (Ain't No Use)," a single stylistically in keeping with the burgeoning acid-house genre; it was issued by Bar One, a label owned by Rob Gretton, who managed New Order. (Gretton died in 1999.) Sub Sub's debut full-length, Full Fathom Five, came along two years later, and with talents such as Tricky and New Order's Bernard Sumner eager to participate in musical collaborations with them, the lads seemed bound for electro-dance stardom.