I often chastise myself for not following through with a band I initially really like. I fall into the same trap Dave Eggers once described in a Spin article: My curiosity and eclectic bent always lead me to buy something from a band I haven’t heard yet rather than from an old standard. But Idlewild’s Warnings/Promises proves I haven’t missed much since that band’s 2001 breakthrough, 100 Broken Windows.
That album was electrifying, with its early R.E.M. speed-twang, name-dropping of Gertrude Stein, and howls from Roddy Woomble, the coolest-named lead singer rock had seen in a long time. Nothing on Warnings/Promises even remotely approaches the screaming passion of earlier Idlewild tracks such as “Rusty” and “Idea Track.” From the first minute of “Love Steals Us From Loneliness,” it’s clear that the band members have turned down their influence from Stipe and company and amped up their Smiths adoration. Woomble sounds like he’s singing a Morrisey song karaoke style. And if that song title sounds pretentious to you, Woomble agrees. He even admits it’s stupid in the lyrics. So the question is this: Why did he name the song that?
As the album progresses, Woomble’s songwriting doesn’t get much better. It’s too literate and wordy to be catchy. I don’t expect kids on the street to be singing, “This is the type of town where everyone knows each other/ And everyone hates that they know each other” (from “Disconnected”) in unison anytime soon. There is a hopeful middle passage. “Not Just Sometimes but Always” is spruced up by a string arrangement, just as “El Capitan” is by piano. “Blame It on Obvious Ways” has an almost country vibe to its background. “The Space Between All Things” begins with an interesting, loopy intro, but then settles into the same mid-tempo-ness that bogs down the rest of the album.
Back in 2001 I wondered why Idlewild, with its pumped-up guitars and righteous anger, didn’t hit it big on commercial rock radio. Now it’s almost as if it has, just without the attendant fame. Like most anything you’ll hear on a Clear Channel station, Idlewild has become predictable and boring.
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