Sunday, 15 February 2015

Album Review - Idlewild - Everything Ever Written

When Idlewild first confirmed that they would be taking a break, I was pretty disappointed, but understanding.  Idlewild are a group that have been with me through more events in my life than even some of my closest friends.  Of course, we now know that the break was temporary; Everything Ever Written is the band's triumphant return, but before we consider it, it is worth casting our minds back to where the band were when they decided to take their break.

I believe Post Electric Blues stands as one of the group's strongest albums, and was a great mix of alternative pop tracks and the usual late career Idlewild smatterings of folk.  It was Make Another World however that sounded like a group not knowing what to do next and Warnings/Promises feeling like a band not knowing what to do with the sudden (albeit entirely deserved) success they had stumbled upon.

So where does Everything Ever Written stand?  Well this isn't the Idlewild that you know.  Yes, you'll find the same galloping drumming, the same Woomble vocals, the same Jones guitar; the folk influences are here too of course, but this sounds a lot like an all-new band.  You'll recognise the sounds and the structures, but the album comes with some forays into all new styles new sonics, and, most importantly, a new verve.

Take the lead single Collect Yourself. Yeah, that is Idlewild alright, and, as lead singles go, it is probably up there with You Held the World in Your Arms in quality, but therein lies a hidden tease of the album - you've never heard the band sound this loose and live on record before.  There are tracks that run into each other with others starting with a screech of orchestral tune up like on So Many Things to Decide, and others like the wonderful (Use It) If You Can Use It breaching the seven minute mark.

There-in lies a confidence in having this looser sound that grows in you as you listen.  There are squelches of feedback throughout - sometimes rendering the guitar solos as wailing controlled banshees.  The loose sounds also translates to the band growing in new ways, like the languid Come on Ghost, a single that really does a disservice to the album, sounding far more powerful sandwiched between Collect Yourself and So Many Things to Decide.

Despite being mentioned twice already, So Many Things to Decide does feel like it should have been placed elsewhere on the record, disrupting the momentum.  It is a pleasant enough song, but it skirts too close to the folk-Idlewild that never felt like it fitted the rest of the band as well as it fits Woomble's ever-impressive vocals.  In fact, there are times on Everything Ever Written when you're not quite sure if it is Woomble singing - if you were to compare the vocals on All Things Different to those on Hope Is Important (even Captain, for that matter) it sounds like a different vocalist altogether - his vocals have never sounded more accomplished.

I have always found Woomble's lyrics to land more on the good side between the ridiculous and profound line and Everything Ever Written features some strong work.  Album stand out (and certain single contender / fan favourite) Nothing I Can Do About feels like a more electric sequel to American English with a bit more drive, and reminds why the band did get that mid 2000s blast of Radio 1 success. A favourite line comes from All Things Different - "always running away, running away on my own / mixing up my longing to stay with my longing to be gone, to be somewhere different than anywhere I've been before," resonates with me on many levels and surely links to the band's return itself; stay away from somewhere you've always been, and instead go somewhere totally different.

The album sags in the middle though, despite these peaks - there lacks verve in the middle set of tracks, with the nadir being the throw away Like a Clown, which ranks as one of the most misguided songs the band have placed on record.  There are the requisite punky-Idlewild songs on here too, like On Another Planet which continues the trend from A Modern Way of Letting Go, Too Long Awake, If It Takes You Home and All Over the Town across the band's last albums, but, unlike the last two, it does do something different and feels like a band wanting to do a track like that rather than a band who feels like they have to, which is something I said right back at the beginning of this review - Everything Ever Written feels like the band rediscovering something - it might not be the Idlewild we all knew, loved and missed, but it certainly is interesting and arresting enough to satisfy and impress.

I will admit that, when considering this album, I did feel like I was too close to it - did I want it to be great?  Was I willing it to sound good?  I turned the review over and over in my head prior to finishing it for days on end, checking each line.  What I realised was that it is great to have Idlewild back touring and releasing a new album, and Everything Ever Written is one of the best sets the band have released since their early period, but it won't reclaim the fans that they've has lost since incorporating folk into their sound.  Importantly, that isn't a failing; quite the opposite - it's a triumph.

- Mark Shields

Idlewild - Everything Ever Written is out on February 16th and is available to pre-order here.

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