The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

“If It Takes You Home” – An Introduction to Idlewild

Hope Is Important (1998)

Having impressed with their first clutch of singles and debut mini-album Captain for independent imprint Deceptive, Idlewild were quickly snapped up by the major label-owned Food Records for their first full-length statement, Hope Is Important. Explaining its title, Woomble said they wanted to choose a phrase “that can be taken completely literally as some kind of positive statement or it can mean absolutely nothing and it is in-between somewhere. I don’t want to be purposefully vague, but it is a vague title.”

Boasting four wonderful singles, each of which outperformed the last in chart positions culminating in the UK Top 20 splash for ‘When I Argue I See Shapes’, Hope Is Important was well-written, endearingly scruffy and a very decent attempt to capture the chaos and excitement of Idlewild’s live shows. Predominantly marked by post-grunge sounds, as can be heard in the frantic ‘Everyone Says You’re So Fragile’, there’s nevertheless snapshots of the fledgling romantic side in the more ballad-orientated likes of ‘I’m A Message’.

Hope Is Important, as Woomble himself later put it, was one of the last of an old-fashioned kind of debut album that bands breaking through very rarely get to make any more – namely, the promising but messy and imperfect first statement where the artist is still discovering more about their sound and personality. Despite the rough-hewn and sometimes amateurish execution of the band’s music and Woomble’s vocals, there’s plenty of admirable teenage enthusiasm on display that more than makes up for it, and no small amount of indie-punk thrills. (7/10) (LISTEN)

100 Broken Windows (2000)

Keeping their fanbase happy by dropping its lead single ‘Little Discourage’ well before the end of 1999, Idlewild grew effortlessly in stature for their excellent sophomore effort 100 Broken Windows.  Esteemed producer Dave Eringa (Manics, Ocean Colour Scene) managed to harness the rough-hewn, punky qualities of their endearing debut and married it to a higher quality of professionalism and presentation, which, coupled with the rapidly improving songcraft of Woomble and the rest of Idlewild, made for improvements all across the board.

Four more minor hit singles landed outside the UK Top 20, but Idlewild were rewarded with their first ‘Top of the Pops’ appearances for second and third singles ‘Actually It’s Darkness’ and ‘These Wooden Ideas’. The post-grungey aspects that had made their live performances so shambolically mesmeric were in evidence, but there seemed to be a much grander sweep and heft to proceedings this time around. The emotional meltdown of ‘Rusty’, and the adorable ‘Let Me Sleep (Next To The Mirror)’ were perfect examples of that wider tonal delivery. The closing trio of slower tracks proved that Idlewild could do vulnerability with just as much charisma and magnetism as they could in executing their established standard indie-rock thrills.

Ranging roughshod indie thrash-fests and stately indie torch ballads, with Woomble’s impassioned and increasingly literate lyrics, 100 Broken Windows is a brilliant snapshot of a band in transition, representing the end of the beginning of their story. Idlewild were slowly leaving behind the riotous, lo-fi indie-punk of their earliest work and embracing mature, Americana-influenced rock and Pacific North-Western grunge. (9/10) (LISTEN)

The Remote Part (2002)

Idlewild’s big break came five years into their career with their third album, after a number of moves that gradually both expanded and shored up their fanbase while adding to their sonic palette. Although they suffered the loss of original bassist Bob Fairfoull immediately after its recording, who disagreed with the more mature direction in which they were headed, The Remote Part, more than any other era, saw Idlewild operating much more as a collective of songwriters. Woomble credited Rod Jones with taking the initiative in musical terms, and that was reflected in their band’s most diverse collection of songs yet.

Inspired by American culture, from dusty country to the continent’s rich literature, but all the while moored by their distinctively Scottish roots, The Remote Part found Idlewild in a divinely settled place, where they could be both reflective and passionate at the same time. Every single song felt as if the band were imparting a self-evident, tangible truth. Woomble’s latent croon is also on display in the album’s calmer moments, particularly the resplendent closer ‘In Remote Part/Scottish Fiction’ that features a specially written verse from Scottish poet Edwin Morgan.

Boasting four memorable charting singles, ranging from the crystalline indie-folk of ‘Live In A Hiding Place’ to the sleek punk of ‘A Modern Way Of Letting Go’ and via the radiant, anthemic ‘American English’ and crunchy indie of ‘Stay The Same’, The Remote Part was a resounding triumph on all fronts. It hit the top three of the albums chart, kept from the summit only by massive recent releases from Oasis and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and sold 100,000 copies within a month. The best, however, was yet to come, but only in artistic terms… (8/10) (LISTEN)

Warnings/Promises (2005)

Everything about Warnings/Promises should have made it a success, particularly as it doubled down on what had been an artistically and commercially rewarding formula the last time out. Producing in league with Tony Hoffer in sunny Los Angeles as Parlophone lavished the group with more resources than ever before, it’s most certainly the band’s most American-sounding album, and in many places could pass for a prime-time R.E.M. record.

The lap-steel guitar keening of ‘Disconnected’, the warm, swooning balladry of ‘Welcome Home’ and the heart-stopping instrumental storm of ‘Too Long Awake’ all fill the record with the most sonically ambitious moments in their catalogue, but also the most accessible to a newcomer. What made Warnings/Promises divisive for some elements of Idlewild’s fanbase was the almost complete distance from their punk origins. The head-down charge of ‘I Want A Warning’ retains some of that edge from their early days, but even then it feels restrained and stately, but the pulse underpinning ‘The Space Between All Things’ is theirs and no-one else’s.

However, despite the embarrassment of riches on display and the terrific reviews it garnered, Warnings/Promises failed to connect with the British public. The heartfelt, emotional hurricane of ‘Love Steals Us From Loneliness’, an absolutely imperious moment designed for stadiums, should have made perfect sense to a public once again besotted with indie-rock balladry, but it, along with subsequent singles in the shape of the ringing, taut ‘I Understand It’ and the unspeakably lovely ‘El Capitan’, performed disappointingly. Eventually, the album’s planned fourth single ‘As If I Hadn’t Slept’ was cancelled and Parlophone unceremoniously dropped Idlewild from their roster. It was a cruel fate to befall such a wonderfully underrated band at the peak of their powers, and effectively relegated them to cult status forevermore, but for many Idlewild fans, Warnings/Promises is their finest hour – and we agree. (9/10) (LISTEN)

Make Another World (2007)

Perhaps sensing that the game was up, at least in terms of commercial rewards, Idlewild’s fifth studio album was essentially a re-statement of all the aesthetics that informed their decade-long career to date, condensed into a taut, lean statement of defiance at under 35 minutes in length. Some fall-out was inevitable from the disappointment of being dropped from the majors, as changes in personnel, too, with bassist Gavin Fox making way for Gareth Russell.

Make Another World is a low-key but crowd-pleasing collection, something easily digestible for everybody. Woomble’s reflective, literal wisdom is prominent – the best of these being ‘Future Works’ (“You can steal what you love / But you can’t love what you steal”). The likes of ‘A Ghost In The Arcade’ and ‘Finished It Remains’ transport the listener back to the band’s glory days. The dance-able, almost robotic rhythm propping up lead single ‘No Emotion’ pays lip service to the indie fashions of the time, and showed that Idlewild could be adaptable despite being so steadfast in their own principles for so much of their career. Only the title track really bears any hallmarks of its predecessor.

While it lacks the explosiveness of 100 Broken Windows, the melodic immediacy of The Remote Part and the refinement of Warnings/Promises, eventually falling between many differing versions of Idlewild, there wasn’t anything remotely in danger of being classed as ‘filler’ on a clipped, muscular record. Make Another World was a slow-burner whose charms eventually revealed themselves to the dedicated listener. (7/10) (LISTEN)

Post-Electric Blues (2009)

Self-released in conjunction with Cooking Vinyl after a successful crowd-funding endeavour from Idlewild fans keen to hear new music from their heroes. December 2008 had seen a residency at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, where they played each of their five albums in full, and another such residency at Camden’s Dingwalls followed in February 2009, stoking the appetite for new music among the fanbase.

Much of Post-Electric Blues was influenced by Roddy Woomble’s nascent solo career, influenced by British acoustic folk and at that point two albums strong. However, those delicate strains are blown up to much grander proportions by his bandmates, as can be heard on the sweeping ‘Younger Than America’ and ‘Take Me Back In Time’. Fans of the group’s punk origins were also satisfied by the likes of the Kerouac-influenced ‘City Hall’ and the energetic lead single ‘Readers & Writers’.

Ultimately, for all its loveliness, Post-Electric Blues now registers as a bit of an anomalous Idlewild record, a holding pattern to secure a possible future in the second decade of existence for a band that many thought had run its course by the end of the Noughties. They’re operating firmly in their comfort zone here, but it’s a virtuoso display at times. (6/10) (LISTEN)

Everything Ever Written (2015)

The hiatus called after the warm victory lap of nostalgia that followed Post-Electric Blues saw Roddy Woomble and his bandmates pursue various solo endeavours for the best part of half a decade. Announced at the end of 2013 but which took over a year to make, the group’s seventh LP Everything Ever Written emerged after a six year break and registered a UK Top 20 placing, the group’s best returns in ten years. Yet more line-up changes took place for the reunion, with the addition of a keyboardist, a first for the band, in the shape of Lucci Rossi, and bass guitarist Andrew Mitchell at the expense of both Allan Stewart and Gareth Russell.

Everything Ever Written displayed an intriguing dynamic. It explored some uncharted, occasionally startling, musical territory for the group, yet you could immediately tell it was of a piece with their previous work. Woomble is fine lyrical form, as always, but there’s a rawer, crunchier, distinctively American sound to proceedings, with Jones’ musical arrangements now surrounding and playing off Woomble’s vocals, rather than merely acting as a backdrop to them.

That new direction is instantly detectable on ‘Collect Yourself’, with its buzzing fanfare of guitar that’s reminiscent of Jack White’s solo material, before settling down into some lean, white-boy indie funk. ‘Nothing I Can Do About It’, ‘Every Little Means Trust’ and ‘Radium Girl’ all recalled Idlewild’s classic modus operandi, meanwhile, playing fast and loose once more with the R.E.M. songbook and expertly blending that college rock sound with ‘60s pop.

Ultimately, what Everything Ever Written represented was a clean break from Idlewild’s past, something that both Make Another World and Post-Electric Blues had struggled to suggest. Here, they sounded like a confident, mature band making the best of their situation. With a new record on the way in 2019, hopefully we’re now seeing a glorious third chapter, or at least an Indian summer, to Idlewild’s career. (8/10) (LISTEN)

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