Right from the brilliant, searing opener "Sand on Fire," with its stately pace and skyscraping guitar work, the Kitchens gave notice that they were far from over. In the end, Cowboys and Aliens
turned out to be the band's final full-length release, though clearly the trio went out on a high. Focusing on shorter, immediate numbers, with many songs featuring Katie Meehan
's fine backing vocals, Cowboys and Aliens
can't quite reach the sheer sweep of The Death of Cool
, but the surfeit of intelligent lyrics and compelling music both remains as strong as ever. "Get Over Yourself" tackles a more acoustic-driven groove than before with confident elan, while the title track explodes with relentless energy, adding a wonderful Fitzgerald
lyric about gathering "the bruised and imperfected" to fly away into space and escape an uncaring world. The Kitchens' knack for longer, more involved mini-epics remains as strong as ever, such as with the restrained but growing more relentless "Here Come the Swans" and the angry and wistful "Thought He Had Everything." Still, this album succeeds best on its should-have-been radio hits, and why the string-swept, sweetly soft then snarling, you-and-me-against-the-world nugget "Come On Now" didn't chart all over the universe is one of those eternal mysteries.