I should offer some disclosure – Idlewild are one of my favourite bands. Their turn of the millenia masterpiece 100 Broken Windows is my Number One Record, Ever (a big deal, for audio-obsessives like me who make such lists); and the albums that came before and after it – as well as the ones before and after those – are right up there in the Essential category too. So that’s a hell of a standard to be up against, really, and something to keep in mind as I go on to make multiple annoying references to The Past.
As a result of this glittering catalogue, any departure from the formulas which made these records so brilliant is ultimately going to be a risk for the rabid fan of old (ie; me). After several decades in the game though, with changing lineups and a host of solo and side projects under their belts, we need to remember that things are not as they once were. If you’re aware of that, then this new record’s psych-lite, adult-contemporary flashes might not throw you so much.
On first listen, Interview Music is a good record. It’s initial unveiling lacks some of the instant, undeniable appeal they have always been heralded for, but that’s not to say that it’s not worthwhile. Quite the opposite, actually: after spending time immersing yourself in the songs and recovering from your initial shock at the change in direction, this album’s magic lies in it’s ability to reveal itself gradually over time to those who choose to indulge it.
Living up to nostalgia is near-impossible, and the guys certainly did themselves no favours by mentioning a return to their rock roots in the lead up to release. By referencing the past you are competing with memories – and with the aforementioned gold in the bank and sentimentality now in play, that’s a hard battle to win. Claims about The Past are also somewhat difficult to verify: as you take the album in the angular, driving push of yesteryear certainly doesn’t seem to be much of an overall focus in 2019.
“Same Things Twice” is the welcome exception – a trademark Roddy Woomble yelp punctuates the chorus, and Rod Jones’ guitar is as addictive as it ever was. As a short, jangly burst it’s the album’s highlight by a long way; and the track is destined to be a standout in live sets on the band’s upcoming tour. I don’t hop recklessly around my living room these days (middle age, ye ken?); but this song absolutely makes me want to.
Lead single “Dream Variations” is a swirling, sprawling creature with Multiple Personality Disorder. The first 3 minutes are classic Idlewild, but then? Then, it launches off towards another planet. It sounds like the musical equivalent of an experience I had in my 20s, when my hippie boyfriend took me to a house party and we all sat around eating vegan ice cream from the same tub, as plumes of smoke from a possibly illegal herbal concoction clouded the air. Someone kept raving about Pink Floyd in the outer recesses of my diminishing sobriety, and the tail end of this song certainly evokes the same feeling as my muddled brain grappled with that night. Does it work? Yes, though don’t go listening to an old Idlewild track straight afterwards, unless you want your mind and it’s confusion blown on a trip through the cosmos.
“There’s A Place For Everything” only serves to heighten your discombobulation. Before you can figure out just what the fuck is going on, it’s got you hooked, and you’re destined to be singing the undeniable “It’s just a matter of time…” line to yourself when down the shops buying bread the following weekend. I’m not going to mention lyrics about washing machines – that’s a treat I’ll let you all discover on your own.
As great as some of the individual tracks are, there are a few which skirt on the territory of forgettable, and “Mount Analogue” is certainly in contention. The car horn honks in the chorus precede a line about meaning “more or less nothing to you”, and that is a really unfortunate coincidence.
Interview Music is the record I expected Idlewild to make at this point in their lives, and it holds moments of sheer joy and clever songwriting. It won’t lodge itself into my heart as a lifesaver, but it’s a valuable, welcome addition to a catalogue of work by one of Scotland’s best ever bands. As much as certain sections of the fanbase might long for the jaunty noise of their youth, a tenure as long and varied as Idlewild’s should be celebrated – and I implore you to remember that as you listen, and support artists which have meant so much to so many of us, for so long. In the beginning there were answers, then they came along and changed.
Words by Sarah Moses.