100 Broken Windows

[B]'100 Broken Windows'[/B] gracefully enacts the sort of awkward, jarring progression another band would take several albums to complete...

When we parted company with [a]Idlewild[/a] last year they were a spitting, mewling hellcat of a band – one that rolled around on the ground and shook like an amphetamine lunatic. They had promised us “a song is a beautiful lie”, and showed us the pure cathartic potency of glazed, crippling noise. Their debut LP, ‘Hope Is Important’, also unveiled an abiding interest in melody, but it seemed as harmless as a hobby, something they might only use as a counterpoint to the squalling, luminous fury of their bona fide punk-rock muse. It could never have prepared us for ‘100 Broken Windows’.

[a]Idlewild[/a] have become more philosophical and less violent, applying comforting compresses to wounds they before would have salted with searing guitar. They have, patently, discovered The Song. Melody is now paramount over velocity, the rough edges of reckless spontaneity smoothed by the high-gloss patina of responsible coherence. The old influences are still apparent (Sonic Youth, Stooges, Nirvana, REM), but they have been twisted into different, more delicate, shapes. It’s a profound change from the raw-throated irascibility of their 1997 mini-LP ‘Captain’ and, for anyone who loved them in that original shambolic guise, it’s going to take some getting used to.

Last year’s ‘Little Discourage’, which opens the LP, is, perhaps, the missing link. Equipped with the requisite slanted fretwork and ten-ton drums, it is propelled as much by tunefulness as by noise, taking care to soften the blow of its anger with a cushion of bouncy pop. ‘I Don’t Have The Map’ has a similar topography, all plummeting verses and towering choruses, but by third song ‘These Wooden Ideas’, we’re in a different country altogether. Roddy Woomble‘s uncanny vocal similarity to Michael Stipe has reached its ultimate realisation, as this is pure ‘Murmur’-era REM – all dark, muttering digressions and rushes of warm harmony.

Amidst the pervading tone of knowing restraint, there are still a few lashes of unruliness in the tracks produced by Shellac‘s Bob Weston. ‘Listen To What You’ve Got’ is a bludgeoning blast of whiplash guitars and Pixies-esque screaming, and ‘Rusty’ emerges from a swirling undertow of fractured Fugazi riffs. Elsewhere, however, ‘…Windows’ is very grown up. Roddy‘s bookish leanings have pushed to the surface, with lyrical musings on postmodernism, Gertrude Stein and George Mackay Brown. There is smart mastery of unusual, nagging riffs and effective use of repetitive, stop-start dynamics, but the temper tantrums of [a]Idlewild[/a]’s youth have been quelled.

‘100 Broken Windows’ gracefully enacts the sort of awkward, jarring progression another band would take several albums to complete. The glass-shattering urgency is gone, and it will be missed. But sometimes a little subtlety can be just as effective.