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Saturday, August 23, 2014 
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Idlewild
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The Remote Part
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They're young, they're smart, they're passionate, and they have the energy and ambition to take a mighty leap for that brass ring. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Idlewild.

Oft compared to such luminaries as R.E.M., The Smiths, and U2, Scotland's Idlewild were a more than pleasant surprise when their second full-length, 100 Broken Windows, was released a few years ago. What had previously seemed a ramshackle, punkish band that proudly displayed its love of Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and even Metallica on its collective sleeve emerged instead as a highly literate, desperately questing group that had mastered a keen sense of melody. Had I compiled a best of 2000 list, 100 Broken Windows would have stood atop it.

Now, the "difficult" follow-up to the breakthrough album, which actually turned out to be something of an ordeal for the band to make. Idlewild began recording new material early last year with renowned producer Stephen Street (The Smiths, Blur, The Cranberries), but were frustrated with their material, some of which they had written more than a year earlier. Following a head-clearing U.S. tour, they began pre-production work sessions with Patti Smith Group guitarist/writer Lenny Kaye. Idlewild singer Roddy Woomble has said in interviews that their time with Kaye was key to his own continued development as a writer; Kaye helped him focus on his lyrics, something Woomble said no previous producer had addressed. Returning to a remote area of Scotland, the band spent several weeks writing and reworking some 20 songs before settling in with a more familiar associate, producer Dave Eringa, to record most of The Remote Part over a six-week period.

That The Remote Part marks another step in the band's evolution is readily apparent from the stadium-ready opening track, "You Held the World in Your Arms," which enters through a repetitious guitar riff underpinned by a swirling synthesizer part — immediately recognizable as Idlewild, yet fresh. "A Modern Way of Letting Go," which follows, finds the band returning to its high-energy roots, Woomble racing to reach the chorus ahead of Rod Jones' layered, highly distorted guitars, powered by the rhythm section, drummer Colin Newton and bassist Bob Fairfouli. But neither song adequately prepares the listener for the stunning third track, "American English," a clever, hyper-aware critique of confessional singer/songwriters: "Sing a song about myself/ Keep singing the song about myself/ Not some invisible world," Woomble croons on the chorus, his voice sounding a bit like that of Michael Stipe. "And I won't tell you what this means, 'cause you already know," he teases over a bed of acoustic guitars and piano, clinching it all on the final verse with "And you'll find what you find when you find there's nothing."

While nothing else on the album quite achieves the lofty heights of "American English," it isn't for lack of trying. "I Never Wanted," "Live in a Hiding Place" and "Tell Me Ten Words" are all effective ballads that show off the band's contemplative side, counterbalanced by such pogo-inspiring raveups as "(I Am) What I Am Not," "Out of Routine," and the extremely catchy "Stay the Same," with every instrument pushed into the red. The album threatens to close on a gentle note with "In Remote Part," which segues seamlessly into the clamoring, aggressive "Scottish Fiction," in which 82-year-old Edwin Morgan, poet laureate of Glasgow, narrates a few brief verses over sweltering guitar.

If there's one thing that disappoints about The Remote Part, it's that Idlewild's transmission seems to be slipping, as they essentially stick to only two gears, fast/loud and slow/quiet, throughout. They execute well in both modes, but the album seems somewhat deliberate in its pacing, alternating so strictly between anthemic rockers and acoustic ballads in the middle section. The production, too, may seem a bit too clean, but it's still closer to In Utero's clean grit than Nevermind's polished dirt.

The Remote Part marks a watershed third chapter in Idlewild's young career, with the band strengthened by the recent challenges they've overcome and — dare I say it? — matured by the experience of touring the world. Idlewild are rapidly outgrowing their influences as they forge a unique identity that leads me to suspect that they may soon be inspiring a slew of like-minded new bands.

Notes: Though already available in most parts of the world, The Remote Part, like its predecessor, is (rather annoyingly) being delayed in the United States by Idlewild's U.S. label, Capitol Records, with expectation of an early-2003 release. Very highly recommended are the first two British singles from this album, "You Held the World in Your Arms" and "American English," as they offer a combined total of eight very good B-sides, many of them from the Stephen Street and Lenny Kaye sessions.


by Steve Gozdecki




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