In 2002, Bob Fairfoul walked out of Idlewild with a rain of misdirected punches. From that moment, it seemed impossible that the next album would be anything other than either a return to an older, easier sound, or a radical change. When bassist Gavin Fox from Irish band Turn and long-term tour guitarist Allan Stewart were drafted into the new look five-piece, we were still left guessing as to which it would be.
It took until January 2005, when Idlewild embarked on a series of acoustic shows in which they took their back catalogue and several of the new songs, and stripped them down to bare basics, before the answer was given. They played their songs, the same songs they'd been playing for years. Except, this time, they played their songs as they were written. And that is what Warnings / Promises is. An album recorded the way it was written to sound.
On first listen, the changes to the basic Idlewild sound were as obvious as always, yet the difficulty was in deciding why or how it was so. Beyond the odd glimpses of pedal steel guitars, it is hard to see what there is on this album that they haven't come close to doing before. But that's the thing. It's easy to look at Warnings / Promises and wonder what is so new about it, without realizing that Idlewild aren't the same band they were in 2002. They have moved on and started fresh, forgetting everything that got them this far. As opposed to nothing being new, everything is.
As with every release since 100 Broken Windows, not all Idlewild fans will be pleased. In fact, I'm not even sure Warnings / Promises will please fans of The Remote Part. It is slow paced, relying heavily on acoustic guitars, folk influences and country tinges. Even the moments that delve a little more heavily into the old electric guitars and distortion routine, such as "Blame It on Obvious Ways", "The Space Between All Things" and first single "Love Steals Us from Loneliness" seem more subdued, more thought about than bashed out.
But it isn't really in these songs that the true beauty of this album lays. It is in the fact that the whole album is stripped down to the bare bones of good song writing (most notable on songs like "Welcome Home", "El Capitan" and "Not Just Sometimes but Always"). Warnings / Promises offers a refreshing glance at what real music with a rhythm, a melody and a story to it can sound like. It is one of the few albums that doesn't break down this most basic of all formulae. It is without the self-indulgent braggadociosness of contemporaries and without the necessity to pall songs in layer upon layer of overdubbed timbres in which they finally become lost.
This is the real heart of Warnings / Promises - that it is one of those most unusual of albums that relies, not on studio effects and producers, but on good songs in their very most pure of forms.
9.7 / 10
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Posted April 28, 2004, 5:33 a.m.
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