Review Summary: Imperfect – but so special, you won’t really care.
If there’s one thing Idlewild can’t be accused of, it’s lethargy. At every single turn the listener’s attention, in one way or another, is relentlessly gripped. And yet – they are so very often passed off as just another indie outfit. What is it, then, that sets them apart, even in spite of their weaknesses – those of inconsistency in song strength, and the notorious songwriting of Mr. Roddy Woomble? The Remote Part has examples aplenty of both of these; but, crucially, it also showcases why these are so easy to overlook – why Idlewild compensate for this, and with gusto. Believe me – they don’t waste any time proving they don’t waste any time.
“You Held The World In Your Arms” is a powerhouse opener of soaring strings and guitar, overlaying each other with a gallop of drum beats punctuating the questions, “What if you had the world in your arm’s tonight?” and “It’s like your life hasn’t changed, And it’s three years late, So how does it feel, to be three years late?”. That he can’t turn back the clock is at the forefront of Woomble’s mind, and The Remote Part is indeed his night with the world in his arms; if the first track is anything to go by, he is very much making the most of now.
And make the most of it they do; if that didn’t wrestle the listener’s mind into attentive submission, then the explosion of riffs n’ drums that is “The Modern Way of Letting Go” certainly will, as does Woomble’s ongoing tubthumping if somewhat ridiculous lyrics. The brief adrenaline rush wears off – though not entirely - with “American English” and “I Never Wanted”, which both sport laid back, unobtrusive and skilful musicianship in tracks that while chilled, maintain Idlewild’s trademark liveliness. Both are genuinely enjoyable tunes that demonstrate the band’s skill of captivation at a lower tempo. What perhaps bleeds through on the relaxed numbers is the unaccomplished lyrics. Whilst they supplement the power tracks with a kick, they can be a major weakness where instrumentation isn’t the biggest focus.
Not that the volatile pieces are consistently successful. “(I Am) What I Am Not” has no real substance, outside of simply being loud with louder lyrics; but while uninspired, they stop short of cringeworthy – regardless, it fails in making an anthem of it, in the way the lyrics made “These Wooden Ideas” such a highlight back on 100 Broken Windows. Indeed, whether the shaky songwriting is on target or not is all too often what seperates the memorable from the forgettable. The aforementioned “(I Am) What I Am Not” is similair to “Out Of Routine” in several ways; but the songwriting in the latter works. It achieves the desired effect of an passionate, tribal yell, whilst the other, if equal in volume and energy, tends more to embarrassment than inspiration.
A fine concoction of an album, composed of some memorable tunes of both the rousing anthemic jump-and-shout-along variety and more composed comedowns that still reverberate with the energy of the aforementioned playmakers, albeit some more forgettable than others, begins to bubble over and reach it’s peak with the concluding track couple. “Stay The Same” thunders into your consciousness with masterful… well, everything, really. The lyrics work – raw passion is liberally yelled atop crazed drumming, silky smooth yet raw and unabashedly electric guitars, and chances are you’ll be far too preoccupied rocking out to notice the throbbing bassline toiling hard in the background. Woomble finds the words he’s looking for to embody the zeal he’s been striving for with this gem.
“And I know that what is here will not be here much longer
Unless we alter what we have, or alter what we don’t have
What we won’t have, what we’ve never seemed to have
What we tried to have, we’ve failed to have
And all of this was just so we won’t
Stay the same”
It’s not clever, but it is big; and right after romping through the chorus once again, we are treated to an explicitly fantastic showcase of guitar-shreddery to savour – boiling point, ladies and gents, has been reached, and this is one of the finest 3 minutes 10 seconds of pure energy, what Idlewild are renowned for, that the band has committed to vinyl.
But what’s left inside now that everything’s bubbled over? Something a bit special – “The Remote Part/Scottish Fiction” begins as a folksy, acoustic number that laments, as the opening track does, the passing of time and the impossibility of keeping up. As we are serenaded with “So I’ll wait ‘til I find the remote part of your heart/Nowhere else will let us choose a comfortable start”, it takes a heart of stone not to sympathise with his wish that time would just stop. “What a great way to end an album like this – with a cosy, comfortable folk singalong.”
The electrics are slammed back on and the guitars soar over the cracked and aged Scottish accent of Edwin Morgan as he reads aloud, like an ancient bard, of the creative passion that lives in, breathes in and even constitutes the common Scottish spirit. ‘Rousing’ isn’t the word; epic might be. As the guitars, never letting up, play us out, we realise that they have all along been striving to channel the energy and passion they feel for their home nation. Whether it succeeds, as the astounding conclusion does, or goes astray the mark as on some of the weaker tracks, the album courses with this energy in one way or another, and it really is riveting, despite the flaws. This is what makes The Remote Part and Idlewild, bursting with pride as they are, so hard to ignore and so damnably endearing. To disregard this is to disregard spirit itself.