by Tim Den
Idlewild‘s last two full-lengths, 100 Broken Windows and The Remote Part, became staples in my “all time favorite albums” club immediately upon their release. Vocalist Roddy Woomble’s literary-minded prose and earthy delivery, coupled with irresistible melodies, made Idlewild more than just another British band with god-given talents for hooks and rockin’ ballads. There was something indescribable in the sum of their parts, something bigger, grander, that couldn’t be dissected beyond “just great fucking songs.” Perhaps ’twas the Scottish existentialism that gave the proceedings a dignified, soul-afflicting relatability, or perhaps it was just that songs like “American English” ranked up there with “Hey Jude” in terms of universal appeal. It’s like these songs have always existed in the air and in your heart, you just had to hear them played out loud.
Warnings/Promises, then, is about as anticipated as they come. But which of the predictions made in the title will it bring? Will the album be as sonically devastating as The Remote Part‘s closer “In Remote Part/Scottish Fiction” hinted at (the dueling guitars being the first appearance of now-second guitarist Allan Stewart)? Or will it try to push the band’s “pop appeal” even further in search of “greener” (if ya get my drift) music business pastures?
Amazingly, Idlewild chose neither. The former punk boys who’ve progressed with each release have done it again: They’ve left behind the past and found a whole new palette. Known for their addiction to Slayer as well as Americana, the band – having come close to the former in their early years – have taken on the latter’s sensibilities and produced an album full of dusty winds and gravel roads. Along the way, some instantaneous gratification was lost – the songs are nowhere near as “punch in the face” upon first listen as anything on The Remote Part – but in return, have picked up hitchhikers Left-of-Center Chord Progressions and Irregular Song Construction. Instead of taking the listeners straight to the destination, Idlewild now take ’em around the ol’ Pecos Ruins, deserted gas stations, and a few graveyards before swinging a few crazy turns and returning home. It might take longer than it used to, but the trip is still just as fun.
Opener “Love Steals Us From Loneliness” fools you into thinking “oh, this is just like the old Idlewild” before strangely sneaking in unexpected major chord changes during the chorus: No small feat considering the chorus is supposed to be where a song anchors its catchiness. The same scenario repeats itself throughout Warnings/Promises. Just when you think you’ve got the patterns down, they go and switch it on you. “I Want a Warning” and “The Space Between All Things” start off like The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion covering Snow Patrol, but quickly reassure us of their Idlewild-ness with monumental vocal lines. The band have made it clear: They’re not staying put, nor content to rehash their past.
A few entries play it relatively straight (“Welcome Home,” “El Capitan”): Nothing to complain about, since Idlewild playing pop rock songs is about as awesome as music gets, but overall, Warnings/Promises is a record that will take fans and strangers’ investment before fully revealing itself. Don’t think of it as “work,” think of it as the effort you had to put in as a kid when you went exploring in the local forest. What fun would it be if you always hung out at the playground, where everything’s clearly defined with instructions? Sometimes the biggest rewards come from first getting lost.