Cold War Kids play to their twin musical strengths of tuneful electric guitar and dusty piano notes from the beginning on 'Robbers & Cowards', an album that also shows they have thoughtful lyrics and diverse vocal styles to match.

Opener 'We Used to Vacation' is followed by the upbeat, percussive single 'Hang Me Up to Dry', which features brash vocals that have drawn comparisons with The White Stripes. Strong guitar lines are in evidence here and on 'Hair Down', where tambourine and mellower vocals ring together in a similar vein to another sepia-tinted rock band from the US, The Walkmen.

The standout track is 'Hospital Beds', a medley of group refrains, marching drums and quaint words held together by a dulcet piano tune that is sure to please fans of The Arcade Fire.

Elsewhere the proceedings seem to have been studiously designed to sound ramshackle. Whistling opens 'Pregnant', where soulful falsetto, banjo and cymbals make a bluesy sound that is slightly off-kilter but still pleases the ear. On 'Red Wine Success', the band seems to have abandoned what is dismissed as the "saccharine smile" demands of success, and fall around drinking wine from coffee cups.

While the band have refused the label 'Christian Rock', many of the tracks reveal a lyrical preoccupation with religion that occasionally takes quite an oblique form. The album's most curious track is 'God Make Up Your Mind', a sprawling account of a station wagon road trip with alternatively wailing and raging vocals and wildly differing tempos.

Its central character is an unenthusiastic youngster who is more interested in reading Gabriel García Márquez's 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' than seeing the Grand Canyon, and might be the musical equivalent of the Nietzsche obsessive in last year's 'Little Miss Sunshine'. 

'Rubidoux' is pacier, combining catchy strumming with a whisky bottle blues feel and more religious overtones. The guitars are unplugged for 'Sermons v The Gospels', the final song which is found buried minutes after the last track. It bares a soul exasperated with the mortal world and seeking divine inspiration.

'Robbers & Cowards', in the end, is not a stunning burst of originality for 2007. But it does succeed through its creation of a debut collection of songs with a classic rock feel without sounding fawningly derivative.

Bill Lehane