Idlewild
Warnings / Promises
2005
C



what makes a band great? Scratch that. What makes you love a band? Their perfections? Their imperfections? Perhaps their haircuts or geographical history, their aspirations, their energy, their purity of action. Idlewild’s debut mini-album, Captain, was furious and intense, it played at breakneck speed, disconnected, literate punk with an unidentifiable rage that was sourced from… from those first steps into adulthood when you realise that actually, you don’t have a place set at the table, you don’t have a slot to fit in. A couple of the songs were barely a minute long and consisted of little more than a riff and a scream of pain. But the last one lasted six minutes and was about being a voyeur and made me feel as if I could never open my eyes again.

People have said, many times, that Idlewild sound like REM; I have never bought into this, because I have seen Idlewild live several times and watched them evolve over 7 years. REM never smashed the world into tiny pieces and kaleidoscoped it back together with a shard of harmony. Idlewild did. 100 Broken Windows, their second album, almost found the secret chord on at least one occasion, and on several others it made for a ravenous and intelligent listen that threatened to burst your heart with strange, liberal bile. Their last album (The Remote Part) promised to propel them into the mainstream, replete as it was with slowly unfurling anthems (“American English”) and surging rockers that were built on melody rather than inability. I didn’t play it anywhere near as much as Captain.

Roddy Woomble moved to New York City a while ago, because he loves it. I imagine the winter crispness and expansive bookshops appealed to him. Bob Fairfoul, their errant, inept, punky, shaggy bassist, left the band. Idlewild replaced him, and drafted a second guitarist too. They sought to record a fourth album that stripped them back-to-basics, five guys in a room playing songs. Warnings / Promises starts off sounding almost primitive, “Love Steals Us From Loneliness” fuzzed like a demo, but the torpor of tempo is profoundly revealing; Idlewild have grown up and slowed down. I’m not sure I like this.

Scratch that. I don’t like this. Warnings / Promises is an accomplished rock record made by an accomplished rock band. “Back-to-basics” is a conservative epithet and this record is made by conservative men, more interested in craft than inspiration, bound by a subconscious will to safety. Idlewild now sound like REM. Which is to say that the unbound fury became passion and then became earnestness. Which is to say that the maelstrom of white noise became electric strands of silver and then became slide guitar. It has one pace, and that pace is “mature”. I loved Idlewild through university, as they matched me angst-for-angst and energy-for-energy. Surely, seven years on from their debut, they’re not burnt-out yet? Seven years ago they had a song called “Captain” which slayed all before it. Now they have a song called “El Capitan” which is characterised by tasteful reserve. Maybe the album’s a grower, maybe the melodies are slow-burners which worm their way into your heart and make you look upwards. On the record sleeve, two members of the band are wearing cowboy boots, and another has a denim shirt and jeans on. I suspect someone bought them a Gram Parsons record. Bastard. “Welcome Home” has a proper guitar solo played by a proper guitarist. Like most guitar solos, it’s wildly inferior to the one in “Neil Jung” by Teenage Fanclub. This is totally wrong. Idlewild shouldn’t be playing guitar solos at all. The “oooh oh-oh-oooh-oh” bit in “I Understand It” sounds so much like REM that it hurts me, because I think REM are at best passable. At the 3-minute mark it sounds even more like REM.

Halfway through the album “Too Long Awake” makes some attempt at chaos and noise, but it’s lacking, it’s doing nothing for me. Roddy’s lyrics, previously veiled and confused stabs at intellectualism which were loaded with heart, are now too artisan-like, too worked upon. The little plays-on-words that consist of twice using an ambiguous word in one line (“by the harbour / I harbour” “it’s strange when you’re a stranger”), seem like the self-serving trick of someone desperate to be clever. None of the songs have melodies which lodge themselves. The “I know what I know” refrain in “Not Sometimes But Always” seems to refute every beautiful, gauche statement of confused ambiguity the band made in their early days. There’s an old Idlewild b-side called “A Distant History” which is better than anything here. Everything that made Idlewild a great band me love Idlewild has faded into competent maturity. It’s a shame.


Reviewed by: Nick Southall
Reviewed on: 2005-03-10
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