The Delgados founder, Emma Pollock, shows an uncanny knack for the swelling pop epic.
Watch the Fireworks is an appropriate title for this record in at least two ways. The first is that Emma Pollock’s knack for the swelling pop song is best described as explosive. These tracks, indeed, are musical fireworks in their own rights, full of danger and glorious climax and all the quiet in between.
The second way Fireworks is a thoroughly appropriate title is that it works as a perfect metaphor for the experience of the album. At the risk of overly extending a metaphor, it seems there is something of a passive experience in watching fireworks the same way there is listening to a record. The work of others is played before our eyes (or ears) and the result is the feeling we get watching (or listening) to the action. Some moments are subtler than others, which are bombastic and extravagant. If operating under the assumption that all art is a form of trickery and the affect on the consumer of art is all based on the artist’s ability to disguise the lines of gimmick, Pollock’s record is brilliant. We, as listeners, react appropriately at nearly every moment. But again risking the metaphor stretched too thin, as the fireworks’ explosive show of holiday zeal is never perfect, neither is Pollock’s record. It’s indeed flawed as all wonderful things are.
Which brings me to Pollock’s former band, The Delgados, to whom most of these praises can be applied as well. Admittedly, it’s not necessarily fair to compare an artist’s solo work to their former band’s, but Watch the Fireworks finds Pollock accessing creative peaks the Delgados seemed to have lost in the pre-breakup disarray of the band’s last record, Universal Audio. These peaks are returned to order, or perhaps made even better, replaced and reinvented. Pollock’s vision of the pop song is uncanny and is represented over and over on Watch the Fireworks. Take “Adrenaline,” for example, a song that boasts a driving piano lead akin to some of Springsteen’s finest moments but doesn’t ever fail to be signature Pollock. Part of what makes the song so perfect is its builds and eventual movement from part to part. Instruments drop out altogether, are replaced by others, and by the end the piano that leads the song from the beginning gives way to shoegazing guitars and an epic orchestra of guitar parts before closing out with a calm that only ushers us into the build of the record’s next song.
Is it easy, as a fan of the Delgados, to listen to Watch the Fireworks and miss the interplay between Pollock and Alun Woodward, the guy-girl dynamic which contributed so strongly to the blueprint for so many loveable bands that came after them? Yes. Of course it is. But it is also obvious is that this is not a Delgados record, and as a progressive step from where that band left off, Pollock gives us a valiant effort full of great pop music. Fans of Stars and Rilo Kiley, among other lovers of pristine pop, will enjoy hearing Pollock give the kids a run for their money.
Simply put, Watch the Fireworks is a record of pop beauty. Shame as it is that the Delgados ended up a band that flew under the radar for its entire career, Pollock continues the tradition by building on what was there and rebuilding some of what was lost. Like a great break-up disaster, Watch the Fireworks finds Pollock at that moment of strength as she re-enters the game with what seems like all the confidence in the world.