The first thing you may say to yourself while listening to "Little Discourage," the first song on Idlewild's 100 Broken Windows, is "This reminds me of R.E.M." And you would be right. The sort of make-sense lyrics, the driving beat and the vocal melody are all in there like swimwear, taking you back to the Stipe Posse's Green-era heyday. But get to the chorus, when Idlewild's stylish UK footwear crash-lands on their distortion pedals, and the musical time machine zooms from '90 straight to '93. But don't get it twisted: These four Scottish lads are no cornball retro-grunge outfit -- they merely understand what makes a band such as R.E.M. boring and a band such as Nirvana otherworldly: dynamics, dynamics, dynamics.
100 Broken Windows is the first indie-rock record in recent memory on which every single song is in 4/4 time, giving it a punkish sort of urgency. Lyrically, though, the album takes a left turn. Singer Roddy Woomble has a vocal style somewhere between those of Morrissey and early Paul Westerberg but keeps the lyrical content esoteric rather than angry or self-pitying. Woomble is very much inside his own head here, and if the songs didn't sound so huge, you might get lost in his oblique storytelling. "I bet you don't know how to spell contradiction/I bet you don't know how to sell conviction," Woomble sings/yells on "These Wooden Ideas." Do we know what the hell he's talking about? Yes -- though maybe not for a year or two. Are we pumping our fists and singing our asses off when the chorus comes? Hell yes!
Seriously, can you remember the last time you got a song stuck in your head for days that had the words "Gertrude Stein" in it? Well, "Roseability" does, and it rocks. And you may want to check out "Idea Track," a marvel of the pretty-part-then-kick-ass-part genre that smashes like lo-fi pumpkins.
Combine all the good parts of the different subgenres of music that involve white guys playing guitars, and you've got Idlewild: a little bit punk, a little bit indie a little bit grunge, a little bit pop -- all good. They're thoughtful but not emo, rawk without aggro, poetic without pretense. In short, 100 Broken Windows is one of the best rock albums of the year, the hype surrounding it well-warranted. Pick it up, put it in your car stereo, roll the windows down and enjoy the spring.