It’s fair to say that this year’s ‘Warnings/Promises’ long player could be the record that either breaks Idlewild onto the stadium rock circuit in their own right or simply makes them return to the drawing board, the errant theme being “Where do we go from here?”
At the moment things are going as well as can be expected, with the album’s lead single ‘Love Steals Us From Loneliness’ having landed just outside the Top Ten, and their current tour to promote ‘Warnings/Promises’ being confirmed as a virtual sell-out in every town and city where the ‘wild doth tread.
With some fans still reeling from the acrimonious departure of Bob Fairfoull three years ago, Idlewild find themselves in Manics’ territory in that their fanbase is divided between the more rabble-rousing, lo-fi punk rock early days and the later, more refined post-‘Remote Part’ era. Original drummer and one time pizza baker Colin Newton amusingly takes up the story: -
“There’s always been that element throughout the band’s history to be honest. Even during ‘100 Broken Windows’ there’d be those that had been there from the ‘Captain’ days accusing us of selling out or going bland, so it’s to be expected. What I do find strange though is that we still seem to be attracting a lot of younger fans, which is weird because when we recorded stuff like ‘Captain’ and ‘Chandelier’ they’d probably have been about 10!”
One thing that has helped set Idlewild from many of their peers is the consistency of their live shows, not only by way of the fact they’ve such a high standard back catalogue to pick and choose their set from, but also the undying font of enthusiasm that seems to have been with the band from day one and shows no sign of diminishing.
“Yeah, I think we’re all really up for this tour. There were times towards the end of ‘The Remote Part’ tour when we lost Bob (Fairfoull) and ended up without a regular bass player for a while that it didn’t seem right, so this tour has re-invigorated us as a live band. I think musically it’s the best we’ve ever played, so I think that adds to the initial excitement of playing to our fans as well.”
When bands say the next album is “a progression of the last one”, that usually means they’ve spent the last 12 months regurgitating their best songs, but with Idlewild its would be understating their achievements by not describing every record as a progression both musically and lyrically, as well as the band’s forte for constructing whole albums around themes and dare I say it, concepts. And yet, despite the obvious comparisons with the likes of REM, Colin Newton still doesn’t ever see the band becoming a major commercial success.
“I just can’t imagine us ever having that one song that you might hear on the radio or see on TV like ‘Everybody Hurts’ or ‘Losing My Religion’ that makes everyone go weak at the knees, nothing that would cross over to such a massive audience that you could fill a stadium off the back of it, not that we wouldn’t want to fill stadiums of course! I’d like to be in REM’s position in that they’ve been going for 25 years and have always done their own thing regardless of musical trends or fashion.”
Having been compared to REM largely due to the similarities between ‘The Remote Part’ and some of Michael Stipe and co.’s more introspective moments, it seems that the most logical conclusion would be for both bands to tour together, something which is happening this summer when Idlewild support on a number of REM’s UK stadium dates. Colin Newton talks about their mutual appreciation society.
“We did a show with them a couple of years ago and gave them a copy of ‘The Remote Part’, which they apparently liked and they said that the next time they were touring Europe they’d keep us in mind about playing a few shows together and so here we are. I’ve spoken to Michael Stipe a few times since then and he’s always telling us that he constantly tells his friends about how great he thinks we are…and obviously we’re just awestruck by that because the man is a legend.”
Does it not worry you though that Stipe might read some of the articles comparing you to REM and eventually dismiss you as a bunch of plagiarists?
“I’m not sure. I don’t really think we sound like REM anyway, and I’ve no idea what they think about it. I find it a pretty lazy comparison to be honest. I think there are moments where the two bands may sound similar, the more melodic stuff in our case perhaps, but it’s not something we’ve ever consciously thought about, you know, which other artists we may or may not share some similarities to how we sound with. I think with our music there is probably a harder edge than what they do.”
As the band have got older (and possibly wiser), their direction has taken a more mature, developed sheen to it, something which possibly owes a little to the five-headed beast of eclecticism currently fighting for the Blaupunkt CD mixer on the tour bus.
“When we started out, our only ambition was to get a gig! And then it became get a demo recorded, get signed, get our first record out, and so on and so on. Now there’s five people with a whole range of influences its even harder to predict what our next record could possibly sound like! There’s lots of acoustic vocal stuff, the new Arcade Fire record is a favourite at the moment. Gavin (Fox, bassist) is into big band show tunes at the moment and Rod (Jones, guitarist) has been listening to a lot of Elton John.”
Their new album ‘Warnings/Promises’ is their fifth long(ish) player in seven years, and is without doubt their most audacious attempt at closing the gap between the college punk band that kicked things off and the more parents-and-cool-kids together radio-friendly anthems that owe as much to the likes of Big Country and Runrig as they do Husker Du and Nirvana. Colin Newton explains how being in Los Angeles inspired them to re-start and eventually finish the album.
“The one thing that sums up this album for me is ‘El Capitan’. WE had the song before we went to California to record the album. In fact, we’ve had it knocking around for a few years now to be honest, but then we met up with Tony Hoffer (producer) in a rehearsal studio in Los Angeles and deconstructed everything about it…in fact we ripped the whole album apart to be honest, and when I listen to the original demo of ‘El Capitan’ and then the version that appears on ‘Warnings/Promises’, its like they’re two different songs, which in retrospect I suppose they are. We’d been taking our time recording the songs for the album and spent three months from last May going backwards and forwards between studios in L.A., and a lot of the time we were too intent on having a good time rather than working hard, so eventually that’s why we had to go back out and re-record everything and we finally got it finished in October. Along the way as well, we’d been hearing that the record company had been having doubts about the songs on the album, so that final trip to L.A. seemed to be the re-awakening of us as a band.”
Whereas ‘Hope Is Important’, ‘100 Broken Windows’, and ‘The Remote Part’ all had such obvious singles, one another thing that sets ‘Warnings/Promises’ apart from its predecessors are that each song works perfectly in the context of a whole album but not that many of them seem to be jumping out screaming for a seven inch pressing. Colin Newton agrees:-
“We weren’t intending to release any singles at all from this record to start with. It’s not an immediate sounding record; in fact I can imagine it being quite difficult to get into at first. I think it fits together quite well, but there isn’t anything that’s instantly catchy like ‘When I Argue I See Shapes’ or ‘You Held The World In Your Arms’ were off previous albums. It was like a grudging truce between ourselves and the record company to put out ‘Love Steals Us…’ as the first single from ‘Warnings/Promises’, although with hindsight I guess that was the most obvious choice and perfectly bridges where we were with the last album and where we are now.”
And with that, the conversation turns to their next album, which Colin promises will be “more extreme”, before the band head off to play another heady cocktail of 2 minute punk thrashes, It’s A Scream jukebox singalongs and refined-but-with-a-jaggy-edge pop songs to a sold out Nottingham Rock City.
Until the next time…