Judging from the last Idlewild album, Warnings/Promises, it seemed like the band was heading down that long road called middle age. This was a path that became even more certain when leader Roddy Woomble released a solo album last year (My Secret Is My Silence) that was heavy on acoustic folk.
For me, this was a real drag as I was a huge fan of the band’s earlier material, particularly 1998’s Captain and 2000’s stellar 100 Broken Windows. On both offerings, Idlewild wore its influences (early 90s rock) proudly on its sleeve, but managed to do it with such unbridled enthusiasm that you’d swear that they just discovered their older brother’s Sub Pop records and started the band out of sheer passion. I think people call that “youthful exuberance.”
Idlewild’s sixth album, Make Another World, tries to regain some of the distorted ground that they’ve lost over the past few years which should make a fella like me fairly excited. Producer Dave Eringa (who also helped track 100 Broken Windows and The Remote Part) helps the band connect with some of their former humbucker glory. The strange thing is that the album was recorded while the band was without a label contract, so why does it manage to sound so perfectly tailored for a major label in so many places? One would think that even if they couldn’t capture the early twenties fervor, they’d at least be able to make an album that sounds entirely devoid of commercial expectations.
And if you’re going to deliver a polished record to begin with, then how about including a stand-out track that manages to grab the listener’s attention? “A Ghost In The Arcade” comes closest, with its fairly nifty guitar staccato, but there’s little else left on Make Another World that stays with you after the short running time of 35 minutes has ended.
The bigger issue isn’t that the album doesn’t have any lasting memories; it’s that for the second consecutive album now, Idlewild sounds like its members are not having much fun at their chosen profession. There almost seems to be an underlying resentment between the distortion that they, after doing this for over a decade, still have to turn up the amplifiers to get noticed to maintain respect from critics and fans alike.
Forgive me if I don’t believe that Roddy Woomble has enough Michael Stipe in him to transform Idlewild into Scotland’s R.E.M. But here he is, seemingly trying to find a balance between the Athens, GA worship and aggressive ardor that gained them their initial recognition. Make Another World finds them safely, unimaginatively, and unenthusiastically attempting to have it both ways. While that may be enough for some, it won’t be enough to win Idlewild many new converts and it certainly isn’t enough for someone who remembers the zeal of their earlier album to be content with the indifference that seems to be the band’s track record of late.
Idlewild – “A Ghost In The Arcade”