REVIEW: Idlewild: The Remote Part
Idlewild: The Remote Part [Capitol, 2003] (sample)
Three words? Outta this world.
Aliens walk among us.
I don't have any photos to prove it, nor do I have any story about being abducted at 3 am on a back road out in the country somewhere. What I do have, however, is the new Idlewild album, The Remote Part.
While this may sound horribly farfetched, it's not, really. I mean, listen to their first two albums, 1999's Hope Is Important and 2000's 100 Broken Windows. Both feature the odd good track, but on the whole neither is very noteworthy -- basically, Idlewild were a band trying to balance the fact they wanted to play punk music with the fact that their lead singer, the Dickensianly-named Roddy Woomble, sounded eerily like REM.
Fast forward to 2003, and The Remote Part.
Idlewild have now recorded a record that should not only banish the REM comparisons, but soon we will hear people saying that "[insert new band name here] are good, but they sound a lot like Idlewild." Indeed: they have risen to the level of something unique, powerful, and worthy-to-be-borrowed-from. Everything about the group is much improved, starting with the fact that Woomble has found a way to get around the Stipe comparisons: he's started letting his Scottish brogue come through, and in the process given himself a voice that sounds about as fresh as a rock band's lead singer will get without being intentionally annoying. He carries a confidence that wasn't present on either of the band's two previous albums.
The same thing could be said about the tunes. Rather than the short, punky blasts that characterized their first two outings, The Remote Part features songs that are actually relatively complex. It's a fact the band makes no effort to hide, starting off with the orchestral blast of "You Held The World In Your Arms"; this sounds like what Coldplay's second album could've been, if those guys hadn't morphed into bland U2 clones. Similarly, a song like "American English" is anthemic and uplifting without being bland or clichéd; it could easily soundtrack that touching moment at the end of whatever teen show is popular now, but it won't because those songs are never about a writer's drive to write the Great American Novel. Even when the band allows their punkier side to return, as on "A Modern Way Of Letting Go" or "(I Am) What I Am Not", it's in a way that is light years beyond what Idlewild were doing before -- much more focussed, and much catchier.
So how does The Remote Part being a great album prove that aliens walk among us? If it isn't plainly obvious by now, I'll state it: Idlewild were clearly abducted and replaced by a group of people with a lot more talent. After all, as the liner notes point out, the majority of the album was recorded in 2001. That's just one year after 100 Broken Windows. There's no way a band can, in the course of a year, go from bland REM-influenced grunge to making an album that will, if there is a just God, be absolutely massive and turn them into world-class superstar rockers. Admittedly, that would set the stage for a takeover by whatever alien race this new Idlewild represents... but if the music is as good as this, the trade-off seems exceedingly fair.