[15 August 2006]
When John Peel passed away in 2004, he left a hole in British radio that might never be filled. The icon was the gateway or middleman between large radio audiences and bands that were just coming into their own. His “Peel Sessions” have produced some fine performances from a horde of groups, and Scottish band the Delgados are the latest to be added to those select bands to have their sessions released on CD. Like Peel, the Delgados also seemed to leave too soon, disbanding after five albums, the latest being Universal Audio.
This double-disc collection gives the group a well-rounded sendoff, even if not all of the tracks come exactly from Peel’s programming. The opening four tracks are from a session which garnered the attention of Peel, who then contacted the band. And the rest, as they say, is history. Beginning with “Lazarwalker”, the Delgados display that soft-then-hard, bombastic power-pop approach that they soared with. Lead singers Alun Woodward and Emma Pollock shine, while the guitars’ ebb-and-flow work wonders. It was always this give-and-take, male-female duality that seemed to make the Delgados rise above other groups. Great examples are the rowdy and raucous “Blackwell” and the buzzsaw approach of the up-tempo, frenetic and gorgeous “I’ve Only Just Started To Breathe”.
The Delgados were still honing their sound over the years, and a couple of the songs here from early times pale greatly in comparison with what is to come. While some might lap up the punk-ish “Under Canvas Under Wraps” quickly (a song that secured the group a support slot for Elastica), it’s the middle portion of Disc One that seems to show a band just at the start of its prime. After the urgent “Sucrose”, which sounds like the Delgados on a sugar high, the group hits gold with the slower, deliberate and delicious “Everything Goes Around the Water”. A sweet and swaying nugget of pop perfection, Woodward and Pollock weave an intricate but infectious tale, of the sort that would do well at a folk festival as easily as it would at Glastonbury or Reading. From there, they hit their stride with the string-accented “The Arcane Model”, which again is down-tempo and sounds like some sort of medieval Celtic-meets-rock ditty. It’s this area that is mined greater during the wee, vocoder-tinged ballad “Parcel Of Rogues”, which shows the band in another delectable light. Pollock’s sparse, sultry and ‘60s-like vocal delivery during “Pull the Wires From the Wall” is another obvious highlight. And from here on the disc really comes to life, especially with the off-kilter and oddly tempo-ed “Repeat Failure”.
The Delgados had success with a myriad of moods and styles, particularly when Pollock put a bit of a pout on, on numbers such as the meandering and challenging “Blackpool”, which veers into artsy, sample-heavy territory. And it is often this somewhat sullen format that makes the second disc just as great. Pollock steals the show with the somber “Make Your Move”. Starting with the March 2000 Peel Session, the band hits another great and infectious pace, with the gear-changing folk pop of “No Danger”, which is in no danger of growing stale anytime soon. The same can be easily said for the effortless and fantastic “Accused of Stealing”, which Pollock should have saved for her solo album. Perhaps the cover of the Jeff Lynne-penned, ELO song “Mr. Blue Sky” comes off as a tad too cheerful for the Delgados, with the lush strings and Pollock’s sweet vocals bringing to mind a summer morning in California. It’s from the 2002 session, which was nothing but cover versions. The only other highlight from it is a decent stab at “Matthew and Son”, the Cat Stevens tune that Woodward molds into something more in the vein of XTC.
The seventh and final session took place in 2004, with the Delgados supporting their finale Universal Audio. And a couple of these tracks round off the compilation. Of note, “I Fought the Angels” is an edgy, gritty piece of bass-fuelled Brit rock that starts slow but picks up steady steam. But the crowning jewel of this session, and possibly of the second disc overall, is the finely tuned “Is This All That I Came For?”, which is given a different touch here, void of the rhythm section and with more of a roots-oriented angle. “Everybody Come Down” closes the set with another acoustic-fuelled arrangement. The album is naturally dedicated to Peel, but it’s also a nice souvenir of a group that never got the attention they so justly deserved.