[sic] Magazine

Idlewild – 100 Broken Windows (2000)

“For every word that you write
They don’t mean much as barricades”

Idlewild fostered critical attention and garnered a cult following with their early releases but 100 Broken Windows was their breakthrough album. This was second album syndrome in reverse for the Edinburgh band, a massive game-changer. Where the debut long player (Hope Is Important) sowed the seeds of something quite, quite special, its follow up was a fully blooming marvel in its own right. Idlewild’s musical progression appeared to be exponential at this point. Indeed the ‘gigantic leap’ nature of their development has tended to become the focal point of most reviews. This cannot be denied, of course. And yet I want to focus on another more overlooked aspect. Put simply, 100 Broken Windows is a fantastic listen. We’re talking jaw-dropping excellence here, dear reader. Therefore we can talk about their development in the studio or as writers as much as anybody wishes. Just let’s never lose sight of the fact that 100 Broken Windows is fun and satisfying from beginning to end.

100 Broken Windows is rightfully lauded in Scotland (The Skinny declared it Scottish album of the decade above the likes of Mogwai, Arab Strap and The Twilight Sad). Now recognition again here from a Belgium-based Englishman in [sic] Magazine. Like perhaps many, my own particular (broken) window into the world of Idlewild was the song ‘Actually It’s Darkness’. Looking back, this track is clearly the natural successor to early fan favourite ‘When I Argue I See Shapes’ (from Hope Is Important). ‘….Shapes’ itself had been an eye catching release for the band. I’d liken these songs to something like ‘Outdoor Miner’ or ‘Map Ref’ by Wire, i.e. they signal the moment when we discover a band hitherto pegged to punk-rock now showing signs of art-rock tendencies and an astonishing knack for a tune. The big difference between albums one and two (I’m calling Captain a mini album) is that where ‘….Shapes’ was the clear standout, ‘….Darkness’ is just one of many highlights on 100 Broken Windows. I’m tempted to say 12, which would be overplaying it for poetic licence but only slightly. The tunesmithery of this album beggars belief. You cannot move for earworm choruses on this record. ‘Roseability’ is probably the standout.

Happily, we’re under no obligation to choose just one.

That being said, the band still knew how to use their pedals. This album walks a tightrope between power and melody and the tension that this creates is key to its success. Out of all the songs included here only ‘Listen To What You’ve Got’ and ‘Rusty’ briefly threaten to take us back to early Idlewild heaviness. There’s the sense that ‘shouty riffage’ is just around the corner, but no. In each case, noise and power give way to a catchy follow up. ‘Rusty’, for example, leads us into ‘Mistake Pageant’; a delirious bundle of pop jauntiness and rocking out grunge. I think it would be songs like ‘Mistake Pageant’ that cultivated certain critics’ likening of the band to REM. (Or maybe it’s just the subliminal effect of the word “pageant”?) REM – that’s a very high bar, of course, but it isn’t wildly off the mark. Roddy Woomble‘s arching, Americanised vocal style could be juxtaposed with Michael Stipe‘s Celtic keen. They aren’t the same, of course, and you could never mistake the two. In much the same way as you could never muddle up Paul Banks with Ian Curtis. Yet, there is something therein which brings the other to mind. Regardless, Woomble adds a neat turn of phrase and an ear for harmony to his crooner style. He and his band created something truly memorable here. The songs are relentless and unstoppable. I don’t think I have heard a collection of pop songs this powerful since Sugar’s Copper Blue.