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.
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.