Idlewild used to defy its own namesake, a quiet resting place, as described by Ann(e) Shirley in Anne of Green Gables. Although lead singer Roddy Woomble may lead a naturalistic life, their musical sound has never been exactly quiet and subdued. “Roseability” alone would have been enough to get the fauna surrounding Ms. Shirley moving. On this, their sixth full-length album, they took advantage of their contract-less status and self-released an album with the help from fans. Now, three months later, the general public gets its (non-pirated) listen to that which the band has been developing, moving away from punky freneticism towards poppy…satisfaction?
Available this week on Cooking Vinyl records, Post Electric Blues is a moderately sloppy album. Where 100 Broken Windows, Hope Is Important and The Remote Part all had strong thematic elements, this record is overtly harder to tie together. The first six tracks are uptempo, catchy numbers that are begging for radioplay. New celtic folk influences and networking, developed over Roddy Woomble’s past few years of solo records, add richness to the sound that makes everything, well, pleasant. And there’s where the trouble begins for Post Electric Blues.
Earlier Idlewild has always been slightly this side of punk- trending back to their Captain days with its frenetic “Last Night I Miss All the Fireworks”. Fans search for that here and are left cold with only the throwaway “All Over the Town” as one of the tracks that could have fit in as a B-side off of one of those earlier albums. “Readers & Writers” is the radio single which starts with about 45 seconds of dys-synchrony, like a lite- Modest Mouse, but then becomes another jangly tune with “heartbreaker” in the lyrics and unnecessary (although adept) horns by John Blackshaw.
Progressing from track one, the listener keeps waiting for that melancholy from earlier albums, and yet the allegro, forte, happy tunes keep coming. “Dreams of Nothing” is probably the closest that Idlewild has ever come to sounding like R.E.M.’s “Perfect Circle” and it’s pretty much lost in the muddle of the first half of the album. Although there are missteps and the album feels heavy on pop and light on lyrical, there are a few great things about this album. The addition of the aforementioned celtic folk influence, including John McCusker’s deft violin and the soaring voice of Irish songstress Heidi Talbot add warmth to places (“Younger Than America”, “Take Me Back to the Islands”) where earlier tries might have felt stuffy.
Really not until the Pavement-like guitar solo and long instrumental interlude of “Post-Electric” do listeners finally get satisfying reminder of the band’s history. Light hand drums in the background add for a nice complexity. It so could cap off a record, like “Remote Part/Scottish Fiction” did so many years ago, that its placement in the track order here is perplexing, unless it was meant to be a coda for the next few tracks. Besides the (appropriately) forgettable “To Be Forgotten”, the last few songs on the album show an Idlewild less trying to impress and more rooted in its ability to please without trying to fit in. With “Take Me Back in Time”, the album ends yet again. This time, with certainty, maturity and a proper anthemic finality.
Production here by longstanding collaborator Dave Eringa is strong, if maybe a little too well-polished. Earlier records had a vocal track not quite loud enough to discern every lyric, whereas things are more blatant here. What the album boils down to is nonspecific catchiness. It might be a grower of an album but it is somewhat offputting at first. Not to wish anyone ill, but here’s hoping there’s even the most minor snag in the band member’s personal lives to come, so that the contrasting spazzy doldrums Idlewild used to embody might come back just a tad.