Music News

Idlewild

Mellowing inevitably occurs with age, and Scotland's onetime indie-rock answer Idlewild seems like it's going prematurely gray. The quintet showed promise on its two previous albums, as lead singer Roddy Womble's literature-informed lyrics collided with the band's post-punk assault. Time, or mainstream ambition, however, has dulled Idlewild's punk-rock blade. The band's newest record, The Remote Part, shows a band now intent on following the same path to blandness as fellow Scots Travis.

At its best, Idlewild constructs soaring, buzz-saw-laden pop that suggests mid-period R.E.M. and the Smiths distorted arpeggio guitar lines push through simple piano melodies and acoustic guitars. But the newfound mellowness finds too much of The Remote Part as middle-of-the-road, acoustic-guitar-soaked mush, with the heavy guitars relegated to making choruses feel like anthems. Such is the case on the lone song produced by longtime Smiths producer Stephen Street, "Tell Me Ten Words." The mandolin and drum-machine additions stick out like crabgrass, rather than coming off as appropriate like, "I know how we can make a pitch to skew older: mandolins."

Thankfully, the mellowness sags to a breaking point by mid-record. Back to back, "Out of Routine" and "Century After Century" pile on Marshall stacks, Neanderthal drumming and Britpop sneer, rousing the album from its slumber. Guitarist Rod Jones creates a wall of distortion with lightning-quick strumming on "Out of Routine," inspiring Womble to counterattack with the most memorable melody on the record. "Century After Century" builds tension with ping-ponging keyboards and vocal effects that make Womble sound alternately right up front and hidden in a fog. Too bad that it takes the record so long to build that welcome speed.

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David Simutis