Medical science has so far been able to isolate three separate strains of the Big Music virus. 1) Coldplayus Torchsongitis: plagues sufferers with chronic bombast and crass sentimentality. Symptoms include staring mournfully into the lens while walking towards a video camera, being the ‘surprise hit’ of the V Festival and saying things like, “Who says a rock band needs guitars?”
2) Immuno-Orchestration Deficiency: a flare-up of strings on an otherwise plodding northern indie song, leading to immediate cultural irrelevance (cf The Verve, Starsailor) and, in severe cases, ‘Be Here Now’. 3) Godrich Syndrome: whereby a band’s tune cells are painfully consumed by electro ants – usually contracted at the point the record company suggests that they “make it a bit more Radiohead”.
Knowing that infection with the Big Music was inevitable – shouty Scottish band on a major label keen for them to break America: the genetic blueprint was damning – for some years now Idlewild have been working tirelessly towards an antidote. From the stage-licking squeal of debut album ‘Captain’ to the sublime radio roar of 2002’s fourth album ‘The Remote Part’, Roddy Woomble and his Caledonian Clatter Clan have been gradually refining their folk-punk ore for the alternative mainstream. And, having shed their punch-happy, booze-boggled, indie diehard bassist Bob Fairfoull and with Roddy taking rooms in NYC for the neurotic metropolis ‘vibe’, ‘Warnings/Promises’ arrives inoculated against the credibility corrosion of crossover success and quivering with a mutation of the Big Music all its own. Well, when we say all its own…
Look, about this REM thing. This record has mandolins on it. And pedal steel guitars. And cellos. And serrated midwest dirt-road guitars. And big yodels of “WOOOOAAH-OOOH!!” over stompy Bill Berry drums. It’s got brilliantly sinister punk-flecked folk rock spurting in torrents out of its arse and features obtuse lyrical neo-philosophies such as “Don’t be afraid of the past/It’s only the future that didn’t last” and “You said something stupid like ‘Love steals us from loneliness’”. It’s by a band who’ve developed at their own pace over ten years and five albums, whose first record contained not a single comprehensible lyric. Roddy even unleashes a nasal yelp on the dark, driving raincloud of ‘Blame It On Obvious Ways’ and the soaring stamp-pop of ‘I Understand It’ that he can only have caught from over-exposure to ‘Cuyahoga’. We’re not talking in a globe-frotting stadium sense here (though that’s a space worth watching), nor does Roddy get made up like a cross between Tinkerbell and Zorro all that often, but Idlewild are the new REM and where ‘The Remote Part’ was their ‘Green’-esque lunge into the spotlight, ‘Warnings/Promises’ is the full-blown ‘Out Of Time’ spectacular. But with less twangle, more teeth.
The new production muscles of ‘Warnings/Promises’ are flexed sparingly but deliver maximum damage. Opener (and first single) ‘Love Steals Us From Loneliness’, for all its heady chorus sparkle, has more rock beef in common with Soundgarden than the U2 chasm ballast of, say, ‘American English’; ‘I Want A Warning’ is eaten by the gigantic, wailing meta-guitar monsters from Pixies’ ‘Planet Of Sound’ and somewhere round the back of ‘Too Long Awake’, Kevin Shields is shackled to the altar of a sonic cathedral, frenziedly gnawing his own leg off. Elsewhere the subtle sepia tones of ‘Not Just Sometimes But Always’, ‘Welcome Home’ and ‘Disconnected’ allow the album’s central themes – homesickness, uncertainty, dislocation, little in the vein of ‘Your Mother’s Got A Penis’ – to seep to the surface.
A coming of age? Most certainly. A catapult to the Big League? If there is such a thing as justice. Another rip-off of ‘Document’? Oh, far, far from it. No, ‘Warnings/Promises’ is another awesome growth spurt of our most uncompromising, credible and soul-stirring arena-bound rock band. Big Music? The biggest…