Interview Music by IdlewildRelease date: April 5, 2019
Label: Empty Words
I recently undertook listening to the Idlewild back catalogue with a view to compiling a playlist of my personal favourites from this erstwhile Scottish band, who have been on the go now for an unbelievable 24 years. I have to admit to being moderately surprised at the number of quality tracks in my playlist. Here’s album number eight, Interview Music, recorded at guitarist Rod Jones’ home studio and helped over the line by The Remote Part producer Dave Eringa. With the addition of Luciano Rossi and Andrew Mitchell to the line-up, Roddy Woomble, Colin Newton and the aforementioned Jones felt they had a renewed sense of purpose. For the most part, this comes across in an album that has a newfound soul sound that will either intrigue or perplex. I found myself falling somewhere in between as there are a few tracks to add to my playlist and a few to probably forget about.
Idlewild have progressed in leaps and bounds throughout their career, firing out of the blocks as punky upstarts, the sound of debut Hope Is Important was ascerbic and the melodies were short on supply. With the follow up, 100 Broken Windows, there was a bright fusion of great tuneage and youthful exuberance. With The Remote Part, the band introduced elements of folk with consummate ease and upped their game in terms of production. With ‘American English’ they conjured up a bona fide classic that stirs my emotions with every play. The conversion to sounding like the Scottish R.E.M was well under way. Their next four albums would continue to provide solid enjoyable songs that showed increasing musical maturity and an effortless way with melody.
For the new album, Roddy has helpfully laid out the following explanation that “A lot of the songs are about dreams and dreaming and the thoughts and ideas that come from this state…I live in the Scottish Highlands, and between there and California you’ve got two locations that can put you in a dream like state-driving down Sunset Boulevard as the sun sets or driving over the remote Ardnamurchan peninsula as the sun rises. The world seems unreal, magical. You’re dreaming through a landscape.”, which is a perfect synopsis of Interview Music.
The blueprint is unleashed early with opener ‘Dream Variations’, a taut mix of pianos, sturdy bass and fizzy/fuzzy guitars. With such a euphoric melody ensnaring you immediately and the addition of female backing vocals, Idlewild will be going for the jugular with this album, in terms of arrangements. Halfway through, the song enters into a psychedelic dreamscape of lilting keys, swooning backing vocals and rippling guitars. It’s totally unexpected and a million miles away from Idlewild’s early raucous punk tendencies. But it shows how the band have developed and matured.
If you’re going to call in some backing singers, might as well make good use of them and on ‘There’s a Place For Everything’ it almost becomes a duet between Roddy and the ensemble of soulful female vocalists. Woomble sings of “fully automatic washing machines” and the song is energetic and ambitious with a lot of clever sounds and instrumentation going on throughout.
As ambitious as the album is, I must comment on one thing that is prevalent throughout and that is the muddy production, most noticeable in the how the drums have been recorded. To these ears, the snare sounds too compressed and clipped, the overall sound of the album actually takes some getting used to. Title track ‘Interview Music’ is the first song that let my mind wander as the melody isn’t particularly hooky and there is little or no transition between verse and chorus. It’s only saving grace is a jazzy interlude that segues into a manic section of screaming guitars, and the band recall that they used to be a snotty indie punk band.
The pop nugget ‘All These Words’ rips out one of those delicious guitar hooks that would have been a big hit for the band about 15 years ago. The first big chorus envelopes your ears and this is the band rolling in prime form, it’s this kind of song that makes Idlewild special and in a place of their own. In the introspective and beautiful ‘You Wear It Second Hand’, you almost sense the seismic chorus is going to come as the luscious verse does a fine job of the big build-up. Rod’s guitar work is exquisite throughout and Roddy weirdly sounds like a crooning Richard Ashcroft at times. With a heaving heart already commanding the hairs on your neck to attention, when the big pay-off of snaking keyboards appears at the end it is a truly glorious moment.
The album’s first itchy scratchy riff introduces ‘Same Things Twice’, a raucous punker that is the closest Idlewild come to anything off Hope Is Important or 100 Broken Windows. I almost didn’t notice ‘I Almost Didn’t Notice’, the first song on the album that plain disengaged my interest, mainly because the bland instrumentation and nondescript melody make it sound like a Chris Rea album track. Even the broken amp guitar solo can’t save it. ‘Miracles’ wants to be a punked up aggressive song, but the guitars add a country sheen which makes for an odd combination. I have to admit that the verse of ‘Mount Analogue’ irritates me greatly with it’s school playground snottiness. The song tries to be all experimental and sassy with off kilter brass, but then slips into a wonderful sequence of psychedelic swirling guitars and sublime vocals, that could soundtrack one of those scenes of driving around cliffs in a 60s spy movie. Bizarre.
When Idlewild bring out the big choruses, they do it in a way that is irresistible and achingly euphoric yet tinged with acute sadness, ‘Forever New’ has one such chorus and it’s wondrous. Only the times have changed, this band would be huge with songs like this to add to their already bursting back catalogue. Yet they then manage to pitch up something like ‘Bad Logic’, with a virtually non-existent verse and a half arsed chorus, it’s one of the tracks on the album that probably didn’t need to be there. Beginning as a roomy ballad ‘Familiar To Ignore’ finally removes the production shackles and goes widescreen, but the calm is abruptly smashed with the return of the choppy guitars and driving bass lines. Unfortunately, the early promise is clumsily trampled over by a track that is ultimately mundane.
Closing the album is ‘Lake Martinez’, all rolling pianos and atmospheric keys allowing Roddy to spin out a heartfelt melody. It’s a forlorn end to what is for the most part an upbeat and defiant album of punk/pop songs with a peculiar leaning towards soul music. Reference the quote earlier in the review for a better summary of the sound than I can muster.
Picking up this album to review was a worthwhile experience, mainly because it got me to revisit some great albums that I had enjoyed briefly with a lesser range of a musical spectrum. I actually own physical copies of their first six albums and fondly recall seeing the band in a tiny venue around the release of Warnings/Promises. But I never really would have described myself as a big fan and still can’t.
Interview Music is something of a mixed bag, there are tracks to treasure for sure, but maybe a little pruning of the lesser tracks would have helped me appreciate it more.