On their fourth album, Hate, The Delgados go somewhere they've never been before backwards. For a band who started off unabashedly unable to play their instruments (they drew straws as a way of settling the question of who would play what), and compensated for this by making their pop songs extra rowdy, it's surprising to see them reach the middle ground.
Nowadays they use orchestral sounds to round out the emotion in their music, and their songs are much more placid and measured. And this is where my gripe kicks in. While I'm glad they've come miles from their days of churning out hasty, ratty punk pop, Hate is a little too soft and mild for my liking. It's a pleasant album all prettied up with tubular bells and sopranos and cellos and symphonic layers but The Delgados are now better songwriters (see "The Light Before We Land," "Coming in From the Cold") than they are record makers. Or perhaps it's just that they've gotten a bit too comfortable for their own good.
Their previous album The Great Eastern, for instance, is also teeming with orchestral arrangements suffused with a dash of programmed beats (thanks to the producing hand of Mercury Rev's Dave Fridmann), but it is consistently startling, with an edge and magnitude that blots out Hate.
Admittedly, given that I would place The Great Eastern in my pantheon of favorite pop records, anything that followed would have had to battle nigh-impossible expectations, but The Delgados have always been more than capable. Perhaps what's missing is the grit and darkness evident in earlier songs (such as "Blackpool" from their Peleton album, which whisked you into a dim, puzzling world of allure and whispers).
Hate keeps firmly out of the shadows it feels like a Fauvist painting, bold with sunny and colorful intensities: it is a joyful experience, but it doesn't persist or haunt. The regal and beguiling tinkering on second track, "All You Need Is Hate," for instance, doesn't mask the fact it is a rather one-dimensional pop song.
While the album's name was obviously a red herring in terms of describing its sound the blushing warmth and the symphonic intricacies a knife-edge contrast to the aggression or simmering anger associated with hate it also is misleading because the record doesn't trigger any kind of passionate response, positive or negative.
This is not a pan of the album. Hate is a beautifully gilded record, thoroughly nice and thoroughly listenable, and a mark higher than a lot of pop music with lofty intentions (and "Coming in From the Cold" is gorgeous, a perfect pop song), but it doesn't move you to extremes. You can't hate it, and you can't not hate it. So where does that leave you?