Ever since those tartan terrors who spelled “S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y” came to America overhyped and waving to unmanned police barricades, noteworthy Scottish bands like the Rezillos, Primal Scream, Travis and Del Amitri have all had to tiptoe into this country, almost in apology. It appeared like the same humble fate would hold true for Idlewild, Glasgow’s shining hope and the band the normally abrasive British press touted “Britain’s best live band” and “the punk Smiths.”
But — like the proverbial jolly good fellow which nobody could deny — the power of the band’s second full-length album 100 Broken Windows actually made inroads in America without it even being released here.
“We were really fortunate,” notes humble Roddy Woomble, vocalist and chief songwriter for Idlewild. “Coz so often British bands only get the opportunity to have their records released in America only if they’re hugely popular. And we’re not hugely popular. 100 Broken Windows was definitely a cult hit, a real word-of-mouth thing and in America, it was getting really good reviews as an import. Spin gave it 9 out of 10 so somebody at the record company woke up and said ‘wooh, here’s a band that people might actually like.’”
Spin called it “the number one album you didn’t hear in 2000” and the reams of effusive U.S. press heaped on the band without any prodding forced the sleeping giants at Capitol Records to repeat history as it did in 1963 when it signed a popular Parlophone Records band from Liverpool that didn’t yet mean diddly on these shores.
Idlewild had already recorded an earlier incarnation of The Remote Part with producer Stephen Street (the Smiths, Blur, the Cranberries) which they felt compelled to scrap when they came over to the States in March of 2001. Part of this U.S. summit was a six-day bull session with Patti Smith Group guitarist and producer Lenny Kaye who, according to their Web site (idlewild.co.uk), taught the band “the importance of understanding what you’re going on about before you go on about it.” At his urging they recorded an epic 7-minute version of their “American English” which is kind of an inverse of “You’re So Vain” (“The good songs weren’t written for you, they’ll never be about you”) with a defensive twist (“And I won’t tell you what this means, ’cause you’ll already know”).
“The version of ‘American English’ we did with Lenny was definitely indulgent,” explains Woomble. Not bad, just kinda indulgent.
Updated, The Remote Part finds Idlewild moving slightly away from the angst-riddled, in-your-face punk of 100 Broken Windows to a more thoughtful if still rough-hewn soul searching that’s a cross between the Smiths and REM (when they played faster). A massive UK hit, it has spawned several top-10 singles like “Living in a Hiding Place,” which came accompanied with a video by German film director Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas, Until the End of the World, The Million Dollar Hotel). Around the time of the album’s release, bassist Bob Fairfoull had became the remote part of the band and left by mutual consent at the start of an Australian tour. As for Fairfoull’s reported excessive drinking, “he was definitely active in that role,” says Woomble. “As far as being a creative musician that supplied any ideas, he was very inactive. Our original bass player (Phil Scanlon) moved to Detroit, actually, in 1997. He was really into chemical engineering and he was really clever and became one,” Woomble laughs. “We always see him when we’re in Detroit and he’s just such a good laugh.”
The band will have two opportunities to see Scanlon, the second being when Idlewild supports Pearl Jam for part of their U.S. tour. Woomble rushes to the defense of the lately press-hounded Pearl Jam vocalist for his “Bushleaguer” stage banter.
“I think it’s important that someone like Eddie Vedder, who as far as massive mainstream rock stars go, to speak out. He’s very eloquent. There’s this big thing in America where you’re unpopular if you have any basic ideas that go against the government. I don’t understand how you can be against a war but be for the troops fighting the war. I think in Europe the attitude is far more refreshing. It’s ‘it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.’ Then you wouldn’t have had to not support something and support something else.”
Idlewind will perform Thursday, April 24 at the Magic Stick (4120 Woodward, Detroit). For more information, call 313-833-9700.Serene Dominic writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]