[30 September 2004]
There are British bands that make their mark with grandiose rock songs. There are then some British bands who have a cult following and are content to keep touring in North America, playing venues that are perhaps twice to three times what they would play back in their stomping grounds. The Delgados are such a band, although some might argue they deserve a better fate. After releasing their last album Hate, the Scottish band are back with their latest affair, one which has more of an adventurous side with a few more keyboards than strings.
“I Fought the Angels” opens this 11-track effort as co-lead singer Emma Pollock gets the song going in the right direction despite being more a slow and plodding tempo. “Everybody knows that you say things that are unclean,” the line goes before the chorus brings it into more of a chamber pop groove. And it’s here where you get hooked instantly, similar somewhat to what Canadian band Stars will be offering up next month (trust me on that one!!). Slightly less organic is “Is This All That I Came For?” as Alun Woodward takes over on lead for a lovely pop tune consisting of a soaring Britpop chorus that immediately takes off before going into another melodic stratosphere. Although it has little in common with the band’s biggest hit “Everything Goes Around the Water”, there is a lot of pleasing ear-candy results here.
The dichotomy of having two lead singers just as comfortable in front as they are supporting the other is one of the band’s greatest assets. “Everybody Come Down” features Pollock on lead and has a simple alt-rock lo-fi sound. If you could picture The Corrs without so much freakin’ production you might get some idea of this tune. Although starting off not all that promising, the guitars and synth/keyboards meld into a subtle new wave-meets-early ‘90s sugar-coated rock hue. By the second minute it gets into your bloodstream its momentum rises complete with the sounds of distant handclaps. To offset that high is the solemn “Come Undone” with just Pollock’s voice and a piano to guide the tune along. It’s somewhat arduous and doesn’t seem to fit the band’s mold, having more in common with Sarah MacLachlan’s Afterglow than anything the Delgados normally offer. All of the group’s customary shimmer and sheen is nowhere to be found here. Instead you’re greeted with a rather dark and ominous tone and tempo. “I think my circle is about to close,” she sings on this morbid lullaby.
Thankfully this is an aberration as “Get Action!” has an acoustic slant, but has Woodward talking about writing a symphony. Strumming an acoustic guitar while an arrangement a latter day version of The Beatles would approve of, the tune has plenty of uplifting punch. “Every single person who has told you that you couldn’t/ Lives in fear that you’ve achieved the things in life they think you shouldn’t,” Woodward sings as it just ambles along in no hurry to conclude. The synth-cum-techno tinged “Bits of Bone” sounds a bit like David Bryne conducting another one of his sonic experiments. It is a tad too busy though as there are haunting harmonies rubbing up alongside a paltry drum ‘n’ bass style. It’s the first song which might have you looking to see how long it is going to last. But like every good band, they return with a song that will make you forget that mistake. “The City Consumes Us” sounds like “Come Undone” as Pollock again takes the position of a broken-hearted folk-pop singer. This tune goes down a different road, a higher road which has a certain sway or waltz quality to it despite the line “How can you conceive your friends will be grieving for you” offset by a sweeping, majestic conclusion.
The Delgados are happier with this record than previous efforts, but it’s not a huge leap from their earlier work. “Keep on Breathing” is a perfect example, while Woodward helps Pollock’s lead vocal on the quirky but catchy arrangement. The Delgados won’t lose any fans with this one. In fact they might just find themselves in bigger venues on this side of the pond shortly.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/delgados-universal/