heirs was quite a dilemma. Back in 2000, the release of The Great Eastern saw The Delgados swept along on a wave of almost universal critical acclaim. The album was brimful with gorgeous melodies and lush arrangements, and the involvement of producer du jour Dave Fridmann, the man responsible for stellar albums by The Flaming Lips, Mogwai, Mercury Rev and Wheat, certainly did them no harm. But then with The Strokes and The White Stripes came the mainstream revival of rock, the tide rapidly receded and the Glaswegian four-piece might have been forgiven for feeling stranded high and dry. So, what to do? Well, simple really: refuse to be swayed by the currents of fashion and turn out an even better record.
As good as The Great Eastern was, its snowy peaks are immediately dwarfed by Hate’s quite stunning opener ‘The Light Before We Land’, a towering Everest about a crumbling relationship that has such grace and power that the listener is left gasping for rarefied air only one song into the album. There’s also ample evidence here to suggest they’ve perfected the art of making the strings really screech and howl threateningly a la Godspeed!, a far cry from the comfort-blanket orchestration the likes of Richard Ashcroft use to swaddle their malnourished and ill-conceived musical progeny. It’s sensational stuff.
Truth be told, though, that’s as good as it gets. Not that Hate as a whole is a disappointment – far, far from it. It’s just that no other song quite scales the same vertigo-inducing heights, although ‘Woke From Dreaming’ comes close. If Flaming Lips songs convey a wide-eyed sense of wonderment at the universe, the eyes of The Delgados are firmly on the gutter. Listening to this record in its entirety is very unsettling experience, rather like being served up the carcass of a dead maggot-ridden dog on a huge silver platter. They like nothing more than dressing in sumptuous regal finery lyrical content that reeks of disillusionment and hopelessness. Only dark hearts could sing lines like “Come down, down, down / We have the only gack in town” on a track called ‘Child Killers’, but only the darkest could make the song a thing of delicately chiming beauty.
The fact that vocalists Emma Pollock and Alun Woodward take it in turns to weave their tales of things gone dead – loves, lives – makes Hate seem at times like some sort of macabre game of one-upmanship to which the listener is an unwitting witness. On ‘Favours’, Pollock’s narrative of meaningless sex precipitated by needs rather than desires, one can imagine Arab Strap’s miserabilist raconteur Aidan Moffat babbling drunkenly in the background, while ‘If This Is A Plan’ finds Woodward reflecting bitterly, “I know what it’s like to seem wrong when you’re right”. In terms of sheer misanthropic genius, though, there’s nothing to touch the subversively anthemic ‘All You Need Is Hate’: “Hate is in the air / Come on people feel it like you just don’t care / Everlasting hate feel it in the people where it’s warm and great / Come on hate yourself everyone here does so just enjoy yourself”, Woodward sings with a perverse glee.
Misanthropes they may profess to be, but they’re also clearly very generous souls. They’ve already given the world Mogwai via their own Chemikal Underground label, and with Hate they’re really spoiling us.
Reviewed by: Ben Woolhead
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01