100 Broken Windows
Capitol / Odeon / Food
By: Eric Greenwood
To say that Idlewild follows through on the “expect good things” promise of its debut full-length, Hope Is Important, is a bit of an understatement. With a focused sense of how to blend melody and noise on its second album, 100 Broken Windows, Idlewild resolves the two extremes of its guitar-charged personality. The band returns here sharper, more mature, and pregnant with catchy songs. Idlewild plays melodic, punk-influenced pop with wiry fretwork and propulsive rhythms. I am deliberately avoiding the term “pop punk” because then you’d immediately file it under the Americanized dross of myriad California punk labels, and this Scottish quartet could wipe the floor clean of the likes of New Found Glory or (gag) Sum 41.
100 Broken Windows is a sponge of disparate influences (from The Smiths and Blur to Husker Du), which exist only on the periphery of its warm yet potent music. Idlewild is careful never to mimic its idols too much, but the delivery of vocalist Roddy Woomble will certainly excite fans of early Michael Stipe (check out the opening verse of "These Wooden Ideas"). The upward trajectory between Idlewild albums is beyond impressive. The sharp, jarring noise of Captain and Hope Is Important takes a back seat to smart, melodic songwriting. The energy and tension is so focused- like early U2 but with the explosiveness of Nirvana or even the Pixies. Woomble's voice is tremendously versatile- very lush in the verses yet caustic and throaty in the choruses. Every song casts a grayish pall and each one blends into the next so that you could easily hum bits of two different songs and think it's the same one.
The band's melodic side is so pristine and, well, pretty that it's almost embarrassing. Without the crushing noise parts this would be unrepentant, obnoxious pop. As it stands, though, Idlewild has honed its dynamic to the perfect pitch. Fans of the band's early, cathartic punk will be hard-pressed to recognize the sound emanating from the speakers, but patience and an open mind will surely pay off, as 100 Broken Windows will undoubtedly remain a fixture in your stereo, if given the chance. The song that first caught my ear, "Roseability", represents all that 100 Broken Windows accomplishes. From its moody opening harmony to the bratty, Brit-pop chorus to the hint of the band's punk past in the bridge- the song simply gushes melody yet with a controlled and coherent ear for when to beat you over the head with the distortion.
"Idea Track" sweeps in with gorgeous falsetto-harmonies and a clean, sing-songy guitar lead only to erupt into full-throttled, abrasive hard core, recalling Unwound's early, unpolished assault as Woomble yells "your grave/it's your grave." With such an extreme dynamic most bands would be content simply to switch back and forth for two minutes or so, but Idlewild manages to add an infectious chorus to the mix. Woomble's lyrics are gray and ambiguous, throwing around literary references and piece-meal philosophies like a confused college student, but his inflection is so genuine and convincing that his ideas seem new and unused.
It's almost too good to be true; however, there are a few faults (aren't there always?). Nothing blows momentum quite like a couple of ballads, but, thankfully, Idlewild is gracious enough to tack those on at the end. Again, without the threat of destruction (or at least a faster tempo), Idlewild's pure pop lacks distinctive characteristics. While the few slower songs aren't quite cringe-worthy, they do lack the mystery and energy of the rest of the album's tight formula. The worst song is easily "The Bronze Medal", where Woomble's delivery is just too straightforward and sentimental. Oh well. 100 Broken Windows is still one of the very best records of the year. I can't seem to tire of it no matter how many times I listen to it.