The Great Eastern

With all the flavours on the emotional trolley, The Delgados still can't get past bittersweet....

After two LPs (‘Domestiques’ and ‘Peloton’) named after bicycling terminology, The Delgados have named their third album after a Glasgow dosshouse. Its stern facades keep watch over the inner sleeve, and the inhabitants’ troubled spirits pass like a shiver through the album’s darker tracks.
The group’s ambitions are clearly high. It was recorded in upstate New York by friend of the glockenspiel Dave Fridmann. But while ‘The Great Eastern’ undoubtedly moves, even as it impresses, the album’s grandeur – all swooping cellos, dulcimers, clarinets, flugelhorns, vibraphones – only lays bare The Delgados‘ limitations as unorthodox pop athletes.
You would have imagined that by now, Glasgow’s most comprehensively strung would have learned to let shy tunes like ‘Accused Of Stealing’ unfold of their own accord. Instead, every graceful shoot here is instantly fenced off by woodwind, then locked in a great cat’s cradle of fussy arrangements. Their cause isn’t helped by Emma Pollock and Alun Woodward‘s two-note Swanney whistle melodies, whose very basic charms are no match for the rabid symphonics queuing up to overwhelm them.
With all the flavours on the emotional trolley, The Delgados still can’t get past bittersweet. And for all their enthusiasm for music’s vast palette, their songs all come out in monochrome. Like the institution with which it shares its name, ‘The Great Eastern’ feels haunted by opportunities missed.