They’ve loosened up, discovered fun – a kind of lift-off, at last.
Chris Roberts 2009-10-02
With the Sanctuary group folding just as 2007’s Make Another World was released, Idlewild became effectively unsigned. For a band that has often been charmingly out of step with the times over their 14 years of existence, they displayed an impressive topical grasp, asking their fans to fund this seventh album by ordering it upfront. It’s a lively, louche affair, with a healthy blend of raw, rough edges and considered wit. By never fitting in with any ‘wave’, the Scottish outfit have, as much by accident as design, established themselves as an attractively quirky, highly individual proposition.
Not that they can be bothered with any of that tricksy ‘straddling genres’ business: this is, generally, straightforward guitar rock with tinges of country and folk drawn from Roddy Woomble’s sabbatical in New York as a folkie. Feet planted firmly back in Scotland, they still brazenly echo the tics and riffs of REM, Pearl Jam and Springsteen in his plodding, air-punching phase, but it’s the details – and Woomble’s laidback, wry lyricism – which reveal a more intriguing, devil-may-care twitchiness.
Opener Younger Than America is as unthreatening as The Replacements or The Jayhawks, but single Readers & Writers suddenly charges in with a belligerent, infectious, horn-based motif that tilts at the lofty heights of Dexys Midnight Runners. After one or two fillers, the title track – nothing to do with Dylan, they claim – breaks into ‘ironic’ squealing guitars which revel in competing with Television or Crazy Horse. Like the frequent falsetto “la-la-la”s and big choruses, it’s hard to resist. Woomble is still a more alert wordsmith than most of his peer group: he’s stopped straining to mimic his idols and even chucks in a leavening joke now and again.
Overall, they’ve loosened up, discovered fun. That’s a strategy which can lead to self-indulgence or downright calamity. In Idlewild’s case, it means a band notoriously straitjacketed by self-consciousness in the past has elected to join the spirit of the party, to take off their specs and have a bit of a romp. The net result is that they, and hence we, can breathe and stop worrying. A kind of lift-off, at last.