For any band who have returned from a self-imposed hiatus, the initial challenge is to see if it’s possible to recreate that old magic. Get the old band members back in the same room and see if the spark is still there. On occasions, bands do manage to capture lightning in a bottle for a second time but then what comes next? The next challenge is deciding whether to stick or twist. To keep going in the same vein, or try something new, take a few risks, challenge yourselves to think outside of the box.
Scottish indie rock band Idlewild found themselves in that same situation after their 2015 “comeback” album Everything Ever Written was lauded by fans and critics alike. After a lengthy break, the band had returned with one of their strongest albums in their long career, and as a welcome result, left them with the intriguing predicament of just where to go next.
After a burst of activity before Everything Ever Written was even released, with early writing and recording sessions in Los Angeles, life took over, as it so often does, and the seeds of ideas were left to germinate a little longer than the band had intended. It wasn’t until the end of touring for the anniversary of their seminal The Remote Part album and reuniting with producer Dave Eringa that the band refocused and set about finishing up a follow up to Everything Ever Written.
The resultant album. Interview Music is the sound of a melodic rock band buoyed by the simple act of creating music together. It is also the sound of an established band departing from any formula for songwriting they may have developed over the years. Throughout the album, there are subtle deviations rather than large scale changes with the band pushing at the edges of their sound all while still finding the melody in the music.
Fervent opener “Dream Variations” starts with a rumbling bassline which bores a clear path through the song as piano and guitar collide around Woomble’s rich, distinctive voice to create that instantly recognizable Idlewild sound. It’s an expertly constructed song with a memorable hook that takes hold from the very first listen. Just as the song embeds itself, it gently dissolves into warm, hazy psychedelia. It’s the first sign of the band pulling on the threads of the band’s sound to see what happens.
Reframing their approach has clearly given Idlewild the confidence to tease at the expectations of what the band can do. By pushing themselves to adapt and evolve there is a palpable energy and sense of freedom coursing through the album. On “There’s a Place For Everything” Idlewild add little embellishments like delayed guitar notes and synth flourishes to give it more color while still painting with the same strokes that brought them success. In effect, it sounds like a more mature, worldly Idlewild playing in tandem with their younger selves.
The title song, “Interview Music” finds the group experimenting with structure, as they seamlessly fit together musical pieces that, on paper, shouldn’t work. Over five and a half minutes the band knit together distinct, often contrasting sections with the sweep of an orchestral suite rather than a traditional rock song. As each section grows into the next, it all leads to a thrillingly discordant ending with wailing guitars and vigorous piano whirling around Woomble as he loses himself in the maelstrom of noise.
“All These Words” is a surging rocker with a classic Idlewild riff that hurriedly guides the song to an enormous, unifying chorus. Surprisingly, it ends as a delicate ambient piece with soft strings and the distant ripple of guitar notes. It’s the first example of the band using ambient, incidental music between songs which works to coalesce the songs into a thematic whole.
“You Wear It Second Hand” is one of those deftly constructed mid-tempo rock songs that the band make sound so easy. That is not to take it for granted, it’s more a testament to a band who are playing to their strengths. “Same Thing Twice” is a storming rocker that will give long-time fans the same rush of excitement as their indie-punk, early albums especially when Woomble slashes through the mix with a classic Idlewild scream. It’s a clear highlight of the album with the band echoing rather than aping their old sound, finding something fresh to say using the same tools.
Woomble’s voice has never sounded better on Interview Music He brings a maturity and earthiness to the mid-tempo songs, heart-wrenching tenderness to the softer songs but can easily switch to the primal howl of old when necessary. Lyrically, the album is full of rich, poetic language that will take keen listeners time to unpick if they so wish.
The dream-like “I Almost Didn’t Notice” possesses one of the albums most beautiful melodies as Woomble’s lilting voice wraps the listener in its warm embrace. “Miracles” is full of swaggering cool, riding a classic rock n roll riff before crashing into a heady chorus while “Mount Analogue” continues in a similar vein. It’s Idlewild at their most assured and most playful as they weave in classic 1970s rock guitar and upbeat trumpet for a good time rock ‘n’ roll song.
“Forever New” is a straightforward, Teenage Fanclub-esque melodic pop song with Woomble seemingly praising the regenerative power of love in its many forms: “I always thought our love / Could be forever new.” Biting rocker “Bad Logic” sees Idlewild repositioning the normal order of the band as they pull a memorable chorus from the rubble of their instruments slowly collapsing in on themselves. Again, it’s a thrillingly positive outcome form a group intent on modifying their sound.
“Familiar to Ignore” gracefully evolves from a fragile piano ballad to a soaring indie rock song with some unforgettable guitar work from Rod Jones. Jones’ guitar work on Interview Music is phenomenal throughout with each song bursting with riffs and lead lines as well as carefully constructed sonic textures.
Album closer “Lake Martinez” is comfortably one of the most beautiful things the band has ever written. With a wonderful rhythmic vocal melody over a delicate piano, it’s a song that leaves a lasting impression on the soul long after it has finished.
With Interview Music, Idlewild have made another beautifully crafted, memorable rock record while at the same time giving their sound space to evolve. If Everything Ever Written signaled the beginning of Idlewild MK II, then Interview Music finds them discovering just what the new Idlewild is capable of.