“There will always be another Harold Bloom/ to criticize your every move,” sings Nathan Willett on Cold War Kids’ fifth LP, his volatile yelp drifting in and out of tune over a bare Fender Rhodes groove. It’s a fitting reflection from indie-rock’s lost black sheep — a band who’ve spent the past decade grazing from angular, grease-stained soul (2006′s Robbers & Cowards) to fractured experimentation (2008′s Loyalty to Loyalty) to stadium-tailored spiritual angst (2011′s Mine Is Yours), struggling to secure a fitting backdrop for Willett’s raw-nerve tenor.
But with Hold My Home, they’ve discovered an escape route: Instead of working to find a niche they’ve swung for the Top 40 fences. Unlike last year’s promising but misshapen Dear Miss Lonelyhearts — also coproduced by new member and former Modest Mouse guitarist Dann Gallucci — Home projects a clear sense of purpose: cutting out the murky guitar textures, boosting the rhythm section, balancing melody and muscle. The piano-rocker “All This Could Be Yours” builds to a festival-friendly “whoa-oh” chorus; “First” teams skyward Willett chants with a propulsive snare march; “Hotel Anywhere” ventures into dance-rock gloss, driven by Matt Maust’s nagging bass riff.
It isn’t a seamless reinvention: The album fizzles out at the finish line with the over-long ballad “Hear My Baby Call,” and throughout, Willett’s wild vibrato still borders on one-dimensional. But Hold My Home is a bold leap forward for a band that desperately needed one. The Harold Blooms may keep wielding their pitchforks, but Cold War Kids finally sound prepared for battle.