Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Idlewild - The Remote Part - 2002

The year was 2002. I had just moved back from Las Vegas to the Bay Area, and NME magazine was dabbling with a radio broadcast online, playing bits of Radio 6, their "cutting edge" station on a stream free from their website.

It gave me something to listen to at work. A lot of it was crap. But every so often, something would stick and I'd find a new band. And once, just once, I'd heard a song that I became obsessed with.

That song was "American English" by Idlewild.

That silvery guitar comes ringing in the air like some long lost U2 song, and then Roddy Womble's trembling Scottish voice purrs into life over it. A few verses later, the steady base comes in, and just a bit past that, it all crashes together and the drums kick in. And as soon as the chorus kicks in, that arms-spread-wide, standing-on-the-edge-of-the-mountain, bathed-in-rain, grin-as-wide-as-the-day feeling swells over you. Or maybe that's just me.

Back then, in 2002, it wasn't easy to get music from England, and we were in a period where there was a lot of great music being put out in England. Thankfully, there was a record shop in Berkeley, next door to the comic book shop I visited then, Comic Relief, run by the irreplaceable Rory Root. The guy running the record shop imported a lot of CDs from England, and when I went in one day, he had two copies of "The Remote Part" by Idlewild, newly arrived. I grabbed one and must have had the biggest smile on my face when I went to pay for it.

"They any good?" the cashier asked me as he was ringing me up.

"If it's half as good as the single, it's fucking brilliant," I told him.

"Can you go grab me the other one?" he asked. So I did. He opened it up and popped it into the store's CD player immediately. "Huh. Pretty fuckin' good. I'll have to order more copies."

When I came back in two weeks later, they had five copies of the album in stock and it was in the "Employee Recommended" section. So I felt pretty good about that.

The rest of the album was, indeed, fucking brilliant. The first three songs were probably the strongest opening I'd ever heard on an album, starting with the intense energy of "You Held The World In Your Arms" and followed up by "A Modern Way Of Letting Go" before getting to "American English."

The album is filled with great songs, but the last song on the album, "In Remote Part/Scottish Fiction," is one of my absolute all-time favorite songs. The tail end of the song includes the poem "Scottish Fiction," read by its author Edwin Morgan, and was written specifically for the album. It's a marvelously grand bow for the album, and if it doesn't sell you on getting a copy, well, I don't know what will.

Their first two albums, "Hope Is Important" and "100 Broken Windows" have great songs on them, but are a touch uneven, and the band is still finding their footing on them, so I came in at exactly the right time. They've put out three great albums since releasing "The Remote Part" in 2002 - "Warnings/Promises," "Make Another World" and "Post Electric Blues," as well as a couple of greatest hits collections, "Idlewild - The Collection" and "Scottish Fiction: The Best of 1997 - 2007" and maybe we'll get something new this year, or next.

I don't have a lot of sad concert stories, despite the fact that I've seen over a hundred shows, but I've always been sad that Idlewild cancelled their last tour. I mean, I understand - Rod Jones, the band's guitarist, broke his collarbone - but I've never seen them live, and I truly want to. Then the band went on hiatus and it looked like they might be done for good. But I was happy to see the band reunited late last year and is working on recording a new album, and I truly hope they'll play the American dates they had to cancel on back in 2010, because they are one of the very few bands on my list of favorites I have yet to see live. So if they do tour the states, I'll see them, no matter where I need to get to.

They're that good.

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