Idlewild
The Remote Part
Parlophone
2002
B+

idlewild’s third full album sees them taking another assured step down the road towards being an absolutely magnificent band. There are no big surprises on this record, no sudden forays into electronica or hip hop, no eclectic trawls through different styles and genres. Idlewild’s strength has always been in juxtaposing the raw sonic attack of grunge and punk with something more meaningful and high-minded, in adding subtle shades to harsh primary colours, and The Remote Part sees them getting better and better as they further refine this formula.


Maturity and competence have dulled the savage edge of their visceral early live shows and the Captain mini-album, but Idlewild are still an intense prospect, loud and passionate and at times abrasive, but now tempered by an evolving melodic sensibility and a burgeoning creative instinct. "You Held The World In Your Arms" crashes in to open the album, propulsive, yearning and string-laden, echoing The Smiths if they could rock and if Morissey was a more sympathetic and less emotionally needy frontman. REM seem to be the current comparison of choice for most critics, but second track "A Modern Way Of Letting Go" is the kind of exhilarating and kinetic attack that saw Idlewild initially likened to Nirvana, a thrashing monster of a riff tearing through the speakers. REM never sounded so vital or uncompromising and Nirvana never sounded so intelligent or balanced. "American English", the final track of the fantastic opening three, is a sweepingly emotional gem of a tune that shimmers and glistens. The most anthemic song Idlewild have thus far released, it still demonstrates their considerable insight and thoughtfulness, a wistful contemplation of the relationship between singer, song and listener – “the good songs weren’t written for you / and they’ll never be about you”.


Years of touring and playing together have helped Idlewild hone their musicianship to a stage now far removed from the nascent 100mph thrash of "Self Healer" or "Annihilate Now!". Bob Fairfoull and Colin Newton have grown into a formidable rhythm section, taut, powerful and melodic, as comfortable with slower tempos as they are with full-on sonic earthquakes. Guitarist Rod Jones, always teetering on the brink of messy overload in the band’s early days, has allied his cathartic squall to a necessary degree of control, generating an angular tempest of guitar lines, electric silver shards buzz-sawing in every direction. Layered vocal harmonies continue to add an emotive depth and subtlety that few bands as loud and kinetic can muster.


Roddy Woomble has grown as a singer, becoming comfortable with his own voice and intonations. The Americanised inflections of "Hope Is Important" are now nearly vanished. Similarities with Michael Stipe are less to do with vocal style and timbre than the fact that Roddy, like Stipe, isn’t afraid to sing lyrics which are not dull clichés. Always typified by an obtuse, intelligent melancholy, his words are observant, articulate and insightful. Oblique references to cultural theory, politics and philosophy have been littered throughout Idlewild’s lyrics from day one, along with an empathic understanding of people’s motivations, making their songs both elemental and cerebral. The final track, "In Remote Part / Scottish Fiction", has Roddy observing of a relationship that “the breath between us smells of alcohol”, while "Stay The Same", hook-laden but sonically uncompromising, is concerned, like much of this album, with the passing of time and the futility of resisting change. It is rare to find a modern songwriter gifted with this level of educated eloquence.


Just listen to the shuffling percussion and slipping guitar lines of "I Never Wanted", or the surging chorus of "Live In A Hiding Place", it's evidence that Idlewild have added craft to their attack, that they are fashioning beauty from chaos. The Remote Part proves that these four unassuming men from rural Scotland are now standing on the edge of being the best band in the world.


Reviewed by: Nick Southall
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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