Idlewild – Everything Ever Written
For context’s sake, let’s just clear one thing up: Idlewild’s days as oblique-angled indie-punkas (“A flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs”, famously) are long gone. Everything Ever Written is the work of older, wiser heads, leaning more heavily towards Americana than the mosh pit. “It’s been checked, rechecked, rewritten and revised,” observes Roddy Woomble on All Things Different, following a sparse mid-song break that’s positively illuminated by jazz-tinged trumpet flutters. Annihilate Now! this most assuredly is not.
Perhaps unsurprisingly after a period of hiatus, things get off to a bumpy start – the rock riffage that announces opener Collect Yourself feels jarringly… well, un-Idlewild, whichever era of the band’s history you favour. By the time the chorus rolls around, however, there’s more of a sense of Everything Ever Written’s true identity: the focus is squarely on melody, with no residual traces of the brute force that propped up their formative years.
In fact, in terms of the band’s twenty-year history, it’s reasonable to see this as a sonic companion to Warnings/Promises, the underappreciated 2005 album that shifted perceptions of the band from that of incendiary noiseniks to something a little more refined. Some of this latest effort’s most straightforward statements could fit snugly onto that record, particularly the breezy Nothing I Can Do About It, which contains echoes of former single I Understand It in its thumping pop simplicity.
Perhaps Woomble’s folkie reinvention lies at the root of this decidedly calmer outlook; perhaps it’s simply a reflection of maturity encroaching on their collective tastes. Either way, it’s difficult to imagine the band deploying the extended instrumental coda of (Use It) If You Can Use It at any other stage in their career.
It’s simply an exploration of mood, demonstrating how far guitarist Rod Jones has moved away from his earlier Thurston Moore-isms. Here he simply finds the groove and slots in, with no attempt to blind us with axe hero science; just neat, hooky motifs, as a single chord rises and swells underneath. Not flashy, but certainly effective, and it feeds nicely into the hushed acoustics of Like A Clown.
One of Idlewild’s greatest strengths remains their natural bent towards the melancholic – shorn of their erstwhile velocity, they’re free to play with textures in exquisite fashion. The Whiskeytown-esque So Many Things to Decide is a highlight, while the sunrise-soft glow of Utopia perfectly suits Woomble’s gentle croon. Perhaps ironically, it’s only pacier rocker On Another Planet that feels a little out of place here; a sprint among strolls that feels tired long before it reaches the finish line.
In that respect, it’s worth bearing in mind that this bunch of seasoned veterans deserve far more than to be viewed in the light of what they used to be. It’s unlikely that they’ll ever make another 100 Broken Windows (arguably the defining document of their early years), and their decade-old repositioning as purveyors of thoughtfully melodic rock should, by now, have put to bed any lingering desires to see them screaming and tumbling across sweat-sodden stages.
This is Idlewild in 2015, and while Everything Ever Written is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, it is most certainly a fine depiction of their craft, as honest a collection as you could wish for them to make. So what of the flight of stairs? Let’s just say it’s been freshly re-carpeted, and it feels mighty comfortable.