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Promises to Keep


Idlewild: Warnings/Promises

Capitol, 2005

Rating: 3.7


Posted: September 24, 2005

By Kevin Forest Moreau

If ever there were a band whose name perfectly summed up the tensions inherent in its music, that band is Idlewild. The Scottish quintet continues to garner comparisons to R.E.M., presumably for its steady, ambitious march toward arena-courting rock on its own artistic terms. (Goodness knows the two bands don't sound remotely alike, despite rather curious insistence to the contrary from the U.K. music press.) As it works to refine (or retain) the anthemic approach that yielded Bic-friendly songs like "The World in Your Arms" and "American English" on its last album, The Remote Part, Idlewild also maintains residence in the fields of spirited, indie-influenced guitar-rock while also holding onto singer Roddy Woomble's predilection for wordy poetics.

If those elements don't exactly sound complementary, well, there you have the aforementioned tension. Striking the right balance between those extremes is tricky (as R.E.M. could tell you), and requires no small amount of finesse -- a skill Idlewild is still learning to acquire, if its newest effort, Warnings/Promises, is any indication. Just as Woomble's penchant for dense lyrical thickets ("All the walls in your house / are painted in deep blue / you're at that indecisive age / to choose colors that reflect you / and everything and nothing / is in the space between all things") undercuts his gift for soaring melodies, so does the push and pull of its competing musical currents hold back Warnings/Promises from achieving either the sweeping uplift of Part or the contagious post-punk of 2000's bracing 100 Broken Windows.

That drama plays out most noticeably on songs like the above-quoted "The Space Between All Things," which sways along at a leisurely mid-tempo pace before stepping aside for an enjoyable but low-key guitar workout, and the "Too Long Awake," submerged in insistent guitar effects but never lifting off out of its agreeable drone. Likewise, the sing-along opener "Love Steals Us From Loneliness" aims for something approximating the all-enveloping whirl of "World in Your Arms" but never ignites, and "I Want a Warning" rides a screeching guitar riff that never lives up to its promise of abandon.

Yes, there's a warning in that unfulfilled promise, a warning that Idlewild might be at war with itself, unable to let go of its more raucous past, stubbornly refusing to wholeheartedly embrace a future of chart-topping arena success. But that's not necessarily the case. More likely, Warnings/Promises is a transitional record, charting the necessary growing pains any band endures as it progresses.

And to be sure, there's a lot to like here, from the effortlessly alluring "El Capitan" to the breezy balladry of "Welcome Home," "As If I Hadn't Slept" and the affecting "Disconnected," each of which dares the listener not to sing along, loudly and with great passion, during the money parts. There's not a dull song here, even if some tracks' charms aren't as immediately evident as others. Idlewild may still be figuring out exactly how to juggle its conflicting elements, but there are more than enough truly bright spots on Warnings/Promises to remind the listener of what the band is capable of when it fires on all cylinders -- and even when it doesn't.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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