Idlewild Hope is Important

[Odeon; 1999]

Styles: indie rock, alternative rock
Others: R.E.M., Buzzcocks, U2, Black Flag, Minor Threat

Pay no attention to the packaging of this record — it’ll just throw you off. Draped in a musty-brown color with a particularly mysterious, old-looking picture on the cover, you would think Idlewild were yet another bunch of twee and/or miserable Scotts like Belle & Sebastian or Arab Strap.

As you place the rather hideous looking brown CD into your hi-fi/walkman you would expect to be lulled with gentle acoustics and ever so slightly depressing imagery as you await the imminent arrival of track one. But then the savage hardcore punk opener “You’ve Lost Your Way” tears your naïve preconceptions into tiny little pieces with it’s razor-sharp guitars and barking vocals, coming on like a junior Black Flag or Minor Threat, but with a greater sense of melody. Idlewild ain’t no bunch of moping depressives — they’re here to make noise and jump about while shouting cryptic lyrics.

Although it received mixed responses on its release, I have not forgotten just how good this album is. It’s one of those records that just grabs you, slowly becoming more and more infectious over time. The band wear their influences quite blatantly on their sleeves.

The abstract lyrics and song titles combined with a distinct US garage rock sound (particularly on the tracks “When I Argue…” and “Paint Nothing”) hint at an REM influence, circa-Murmur. And on the raw grunge-y thrills of “A Film For The Future” and “You Don’t Have The Heart”, and the quirky lo-fi sounds of “I’m A Message” and “Close The Door”; bands like the Pixies, Mudhoney, Sugar and Sonic Youth all spring to mind. The aforementioned “You’ve Lost Your Way”, “4 People Do Good” and the catchy-as-hell “Everyone Says You’re So Fragile”, suggest a schooling in ‘80s American punk.

At times, however, Idlewild do manage to truly transcend their inspirations and create music which sounds truly original -- specifically, the heart-warming strum-along of “I’m Happy To Be Here Tonight”, the ominous atmospherics of “Safe And Sound” and especially the devastating closer “Low Light”, which slowly builds up a feel of impending doom, eventually subsiding only for it to explode in an orgy of white noise which seems to go on for ages; pummeling the listener into a sweet submission.

Sometimes obscure, sometimes incredibly catchy, but always an enjoyable listen; Hope Is Important remains, for me at least, one of the best debut albums of the ‘90s.   1. You've Lost Your Way
2. Film for the Future
3. Paint Nothing
4. When I Argue I See Shapes
5. 4 People Do Good
6. I'm Happy to Be Here Tonight
7. Everyone Says You're So Fragile
8. I'm a Message
9. You Don't Have the Heart
10. Close the Door
11. Safe and Sound
12. Low Light