Monthly Archives: August 2011

Playing favourites: 100 Broken Windows

Inspired by The Guardian’s My Favourite Album feature (and yes, I’m fully aware that a blog inspired by a Guardian feature may be the most middle-class thing I ever do), I’m having a go at picking my own favourite album, and while choosing favourites is ridiculously difficult, this seemed to be the logical choice.

100 Broken Windows album cover

Idlewild’s second full-length album (although still third album in my mind as you can’t discount Captain) 100 Broken Windows was released when I was 16.  Having discovered Hope is Important and Captain, a little belatedly, the year before, it was the first album of theirs I had anticipated. Pre-album singles Little Discourage and Actually Its Darkness had duly been bought and their B-sides dissected,  and I had even braved Falkirk’s Radio One Roadshow to see them play two songs on a bill which also included Hanson, Craig David, Stephen Gately and Mary Mary. Yeah.

It was so much more than the singles suggested. Little Discourage was the perfect bridge from Hope is Important to …Windows, still loud, still jagged, but somehow more grown up, a pervading sense of melancholy amidst the racket. The album’s sleeve bares one note apart from production credits and thanks, a white page with only the words ‘Subject: history’, and it’s right enough: the album, particularly the second half, is a series of, or possibly just one, relationships splayed open, rich in love and arguments won and lost. Let Me Sleep (Next to the Mirror), one of their finest moments, has a deceptively carefree melody, but listen to the lyrics: it’s a story about someone who can’t stand their own reflection, in some kind of crisis or mental state which cannot be endured any longer, let alone the ten more years it suggests. “Apparently, you’re happy, you’ve realised,” sighs Quiet Crown, “I’m meant to be unhappy, I’ve realised”, while The Bronze Medal’s exhausted cry of “You said you felt weak, I hope it’s got nothing to do with the things you told me” is utterly devastating. The noisy moments are still there, and explore, for the first time, Roddy Woomble’s fondness for a literary reference, and somehow get away with lyrics about Gertrude Stein in one of their best choruses (Roseability) and an entire letter to Henry Millar muttered throughout the verses of Idea Track (listen closely, it is there) without sounding pretentious, possibly because they come complete with wall upon wall of perfect guitar lines from an increasingly confident Rod Jones. There are two big dumb rockers in the shape of Rusty and Listen to What You’ve Got as well, and all together, it’s a perfect snapshot of all sides of the band’s personality at the time, still young with a feral desire to make a hell of a lot of noise but gradually growing up, shades of doubt creeping in.

100 Broken Windows is also the album responsible for my first properly mental gig experience. I had been to a handful of gigs before, and they had been enjoyable, but this was an entry into a new world, a revelation of what live music could be. It was also my first visit to the Barrowlands, a place I had only heard stories of. Sprung dancefloor, went the whispers, you’ll never stop bouncing. And sure enough: the band came onstage, tore into Listen to What You’ve Got, the crowd exploded, I found myself squashed up against the barrier and I didn’t find the friend I had come with for about an hour. This was all new: my friend and I were the only people I knew who had heard of Idlewild, and to suddenly be in a room with a couple of thousand other people who knew every note and syllable as intimately as I did was intoxicating. These songs existed outside of my earphones and bedroom stereo, and they were huge, and unifying, and I was somehow part of it.

Last year, the band did a few tenth anniversary gigs playing the album in its entirety, and down the front of the Liquid Rooms, the feeling was the same. Everyone there, it seemed, still knew every single word, and despite a horrendous cold, I was hollering along with the rest of them, and barely able to speak the next day. And importantly, it still sounds great. It hasn’t obviously dated, and while the band’s sound has evolved, it still does them proud.

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Rod Jones and the Birthday Suit

This year’s Edge Festival is boasting a rather decent line up – with the exception of Cast and Morcheeba, it’s significantly better than last year’s – and tucked away right at the end is the unveiling of the new project from Idlewild guitarist Rod Jones. Going by Rod Jones and the Birthday Suit – whether that’s a new solo moniker, his backing band or his attire, I’m not sure – he seems to be on a mission to shine up the rocky side of Idlewild’s coin while Roddy Woomble is off promoting lovely folky second solo album The Impossible Song and Other Songs. And if taster Do You Ever is anything to go by, we’re in for something rather special indeed. Available as a free download here, it’s a wonderfully raggedy surprise, all serrated guitars and unexpected stop-starts. If Idlewild’s hiatus turns out not to be permanent – please please please – then signs are good for future albums: the inventive spirit is in seriously good health. In the meantime, Rod Jones and the Birthday Suit play Cabaret Voltaire on 31st August.

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Noel Gallgher: Death of You and Me

Right, here it is. This is Noel Gallagher’s debut solo single, The Death of You and Me. So – is it shit?

Well, not quite. It’s not the startling game-changer we might all have been secretly hoping for since the last great Oasis song (which was probably Don’t Look Back in Anger b-side Underneath the Sky, unless we’re counting Fucking in the Bushes, but it’s basically a riff and swearing so it qualifying as a song is debatable), but it could have been oh so much worse. It wouldn’t have been a surprise as an Oasis song, and it sees the return of Noel’s wonky inaccurate The Importance of Being Idle falsetto, but there’s something there, a few quirks in the arrangement, a hint that he’s trying something new.

Liam’s new band Beady Eye (basically Oasis with Gem Archer doing his best to morph into Noel) have been critically mauled and commercially ignored, but given that Twitter went nuts when he held a press conference announcing the new single and album, it seems that people are still willing to hear what Noel has to say. In recent interviews, he hasn’t disappointed, saying simply that Liam needs to fan himself with a damp towel if he thinks Beady Eye will be as good as Oasis, and he has  become the surprising voice on reason in Britpop documentaries, and looks positively svelte and bearable next to Alan McGee in this year’s excellent Creation Records documentary Upside Down. It was perhaps too much to expect complete reinvention on the first solo outing as scaring off the existing fans would be silly at this stage, but if he has been brave, if his High Flying Birds album shows musical growth and captures even the tiniest fraction of that wit, it would be so much more than a good album: it would be gratification to everyone who had their hearts broken by Be Here Now.  And wouldn’t that be nice?

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