The Remote Part
By: Eric Greenwood
On its second album, 100 Broken Windows, Idlewild burst out of British rock's middling indie community and demanded your attention with an arsenal of anthematic choruses and rip-roaring dynamics. Granted its weapons had R.E.M. and Nirvana spray-painted on them in giant block letters, but Idlewild revealed a sense of confidence and ambition that ironically made it seem unique amongst its cloudy brethren, Coldplay, Travis, and the like.
While The Remote Part lacks its predecessor's youthful naivete and punkish spark, it reveals Idlewild flexing its vastly superior songwriting muscles. Idlewild has crossed over into the dangerous terrain of "importance", which is the realm in which most bands seem to crumble (U2, R.E.M.). Idlewild knows it's a great band now, and it's writing songs accordingly. The new found sense of self-importance doesn't seem to muck up any songs, though, so the band is safe for now from becoming a post-Joshua Tree version of U2. In fact, this is arguably Idlewild's finest hour.
"You Held The World In Your Arms" is a stadium-sized rocker and kicks off The Remote Part with all the fanfare it deserves. The throwback, new wave keyboard line keeps one foot firmly planted in the underground while the bombastic hugeness of the chorus is aimed straight for the top ten. "A Modern Way Of Letting Go" makes Blur's "Song 2" sound like child's play. Crushing, crunching guitars rumble beneath Roddy Woomble's credible Michael Stipe impersonation, which storms through the chords with a commanding presence.
Things get sticky briefly on "American English" but only from a lyrical standpoint. Woomble's playing footsie with self-absorption, but at least he's aware of it: "Sing a song about myself, keep singing the song about myself/not some invisible world." The music employs all the elements of classic balladry without wringing the cliché's dry. Guitars swell, Woomble harmonizes with himself, and the obligatory ballad is out of the way. Almost. "I Never Wanted" has a sing-songy, predictable affection that tows the line of sappiness, but the insular production and soaring music lift Woomble's 'woe is me' lyrics out of the crapper and into your memory bank.
Back on track is the rollicking "(I Am) What I Am Not", recalling the muscle and shout-along sincerity of 100 Broken Windows' finest moments. "Live In A Hiding Place" showcases Woomble's clever English wordplay "and you're full of facts but not things that could add up to words/think about meaning more as an after word/as in afterward", and it's utterly flawless musically. Pristine acoustic plucking surrounds Woomble's lovely vocal melody. The propulsive drumbeat is unexpected, but it makes the song, along with the Graham Coxon-esque backing harmonies. And with a chorus that catchy, it has to be a single.
"Out Of Routine" smacks you sideways with its infectious hooks. The vocal harmonies rival even Ride's in its heyday, circa Nowhere. Woomble is a born lead singer with a voice that cracks and splays when he wants it to, but it can also strike the purest of notes. On "Century After Century" Idlewild does R.E.M. even better than R.E.M. could, flashing a bit of trenchcoat and adding the required darkness to the proceedings with eerie effects on the vocals and a tense and distorted keyboard undercurrent. Woomble showcases his Scottish lilt, and the way he says "romantic" will make the ladies swoon. Hell, it made me swoon, and I don't even dig on dudes.
The Remote Part marches against the grain on several levels. For a band as ferocious as Idlewild, its production is surprisingly glossy, which thumbs its nose at the current DIY aesthetic blasting out of the indie corners on both sides of the Atlantic. And Idlewild refuses to trade on its genius for punk-pop hooks, as it tones down the aggression in favor of a much more daring sense of introspection. Idlewild is in top form on its third proper album with all its creative juices flowing in the right direction. The Remote Part is an underdog for album of the year, especially in America where Idlewild has yet to make much of an impression, but, for those in the know, this is the shit.