When Tchaikovsky decided to end the “1812 Overture” with a crescendo of cannons, who knew it would influence followers until today? After all, as good as bands like the Smashing Pumpkins were at playing the loud/soft dynamic with a pounding rhythm section and screaming guitars, it’s pretty tough to top exploding cannons to jolt an audience. The whole key to the style is the method in which you set the tone or break it. If you create a beautifully soothing piece, you can employ almost any instrument to break it. Likewise, if you are an expert at mayhem, you can use nothing more than silence to set up your cacophony. Over the past six or seven years, bands like Mogwai have become experts at taking users through a journey of peaks and valleys, swapping serenity for violence in an instance. In 2000, another Scottish band, the Delgados, seemed set to join them as equals with the release of their stellar third album, The Great Eastern. As if created in a laboratory, the album expertly blended Mogwai’s metal leanings with the pop/folk sensibilities of Belle and Sebastian; not to mention establishing the Delgados as possibly the most exciting band on the esteemed Chemikal Underground label.
The Delgados’ secret weapon comes in the diminutive form of singer Emma Pollack. Her voice fluctuates from sprite-like playfulness to celestial crooning and serves as an excellent guiding point for the band’s music. Combined with the everyman voice of Alun Woodward, they created a textbook course on contrast. At their best, Pollack’s sweetness made the band’s forays into sonic explosions, comprised of equal parts rock and roll and classical composition, a breathtaking experience. As of last year, The Great Eastern was setting the British press on fire, with John Peel and Melody Maker being some of the notables to proclaim the Delgados the next greatest thing.
Hate proves to be a fine, if somewhat unremarkable, follow up. Despite the album’s name and track titles like “Child Killers”, “All You Need Is Hate”, and “The Drowning Years”, Hate bears witness to a more subdued band. The opener, “The Light Before We Land”, is a pleasant affair that runs through some of the same fields as the Flaming Lips most recently have. The band seems less interested in rocking than in crafting hummable melodies. On “All You Need Is Hate”, Alun Woodward playfully intones “Hate is all around”, in the same manner as school kids would sing a popular playground ode. Despite the band’s sarcastic condemnation of the hatred in the world, the music is so catchy that the morals barely register. Even “Child Killers”, a horribly morbid song, is compromised by the music that is in some ways too enjoyable. The band’s best moments are when they have the listener on the edge, unsure of what’s going to come next. On “Woke from Dreaming”, a piano is used to recreate the gathering of storm clouds that threaten to blot out the band. It is that dark side that the Delgados should have let shine through more on this album.
On Hate, it seems as if the Delgados are all to happy to trade cannons for a more choral stirring, similar to Beethoven’s rousing “Ode to Joy”, though not as beautiful. If you’re looking for explosions, they’re not on this album. The Great Eastern was successful because at its core, it never forgot to rock. On Hate, the Delgados seem to have forgotten that. At the same time, they’ve grown as songwriters and at times Hate is worthy of comparisons to the Beatles. If the Delgados can somehow put together what they did then with what they’re doing now, they might create music that lasts as long as some of Tchaikovsky’s did.