A choir of angelic voices followed by violently lovely orchestral bombast precedes "The Light Before We Land," the opening track on the Delgados' fourth album, Hate. It's a rather incongruous beginning to an album born of personal tragedy and deep, black sadness, but it works -- and how.
Formerly reliant on the songwriting and lyricism of guitarists/vocalists Alun Woodward and Emma Pollock, the band approached this record intending to write and record it collaboratively, weaving together four different musical threads. From there, Woodward, Pollock, bassist Stewart Henderson (does every Scottish band have a member named Stewart?) and drummer Paul Savage explored the ups and downs of depression and its effects, churning out such cheery ditties as "All You Need Is Hate." Yippee! Every once in a while, a glimmer of hope shines through, such as when Woodward sings "Dreams are alive, so am I," from "The Drowning Years." (But, he continues, "If that's all there is, then I might as well get in the fire," so, you know, never mind.) Bass, drums and strings rise and crash in the song's background, musically echoing Woodward's themes.
This is not uplifting Scot pop by any stretch of the imagination, unless one derives inspiration from lyrics like "Maybe soon we'll find peace in another world/Say goodnight" ("Child Killers"). But the music is gorgeous and compelling nonetheless. How on earth can music that comes from such a negative place be so supremely lovely? Perhaps the beauty is in the Delgados' brutal honesty, or in the players' deft instrumentation. Or perhaps we should just table the question, put on the headphones and enjoy the ride.