The fact that, just over ten years into their recording career, Idlewild have launched their sixth full-length album as a free, fansite-only release must either be an attempt to keep loyal a chronically-receeding fanbase, or a move towards embracing our increasingly-internet-driven times.
If it is the latter, it’s a brave, forward thinking move. But if it’s the former, without the standard CD release – although this is expected next month – it could’ve been another nail in the coffin for a band who’ve fallen out of favour with the music-buying public in recent years. When The Charlatans released new album You Cross My Path as a free download-only through the XFM website last year, it seemed almost revolutionary, offering music for free. After all, the big bucks are only really in ticket sales, so it made sense. But when it came to touring the album later in the year — and venues were sometimes clearly not sold out – it highlighted a clear mis-calculation of how people buy their records — and how willing they are to hunt out new music. Perhaps the music industry isn’t ready yet for such ventures?
So, by giving away their album ahead of its official release is a risky business. But what about the music? Have the band who burst out of Scotland at the end of the last decade in a wall of metally-punk noise returned to their roots? Or has age – and the influence of Roddy Woomble’s folk-inspired solo career – mellowed them further?
Idlewild’s last album, 2007’s Make Another World, saw the band revisit their heavier past, after 2005’s Warnings/Promises had seen them lean more towards an REM-esque, commercially-driven sound. Rediscovering their past seems to have reinvigorated them – and while Post Electric Blues won’t set the charts alight, neither will it disappoint those who’ve been faithful since the beginning.
Right from opener ”Younger Than America”, with it’s soaring, Manics-with-a-smile chorus of ”I’m so much younger than America” and joyous female backing vocals at its heart, it’s clear Idlewild are out to win no praises for musical progress or column inches for lyrical genius. But what is clear is that they’re having fun.
And largely gone is that metallicy indie-punk sound of old. True, ”Dreams of Nothing” does sound like a follow-on from Hope Is Important’s melting pot of post-post-Britpop indie noise, and ”All Over the Town” sounds just like 2003 single ”A Modern Way of Lettting Go” – but these cuts are now shot through with an older, wiser, dare we say fuller sentiment. And then on ”City Hall” we realise that Woomble has been plagiarising Morrissey’s deft use of lyrical wordplay for years, only in age has it become more apparent.
One of the best moments though – and musically, it’s one of the lightest on the album – is ”(The Night Will) Bring You Back to Life” – a summery, jaunty little glimpse at maybe the Idlewild of the future: ever-so-slightly world-weary, yet warm and carefree, happy to leave behind a legacy of creating some of the best indie-disco fodder this decade has seen.
Post Electric Blues may never be regarded by critics – and the public — as Idlewild’s finest hour, but it’s certainly a joy to listen to. For an album that could potentially cost you nothing to download, that can’t be half-bad, can it?