Do we need crazy all the time? Do we need gimmicky, do we need abstract, do we need unusual and/or odd? All the time? I don’t think so. In any case, crazy and gimmicky and strange only work when there’s a benchmark of normal and straightforward to operate against, right? And so here’s your benchmark: the admirable, long-standing Scottish band Idlewild. They’ve never quite had their moment here in the U.S.—although 2000’s 100 Broken Windows came close—but they’ve been at it for 15 years now and their latest release shows us, yet again, the musical benefits to be had when a band can stick it out for a while.
From the opening lead guitar salvo through the effortless, deadpan pre-chorus hook, “Younger Than America” feels just about perfect—a brisk, embracing rocker with an active, ringing lead guitar and unexpectedly effective female backing vocals. Front man Roddy Woomble has a Dickensian name and a husky depth to his voice, sounding at once weary and inspired. Although singing about America, there’s a Celtic undertone to the music, which only accentuates (to me, anyway) a clear echo of the old Horslips song “The Man Who Built America.” Anyone else with me on that? Okay, never mind. In the meantime, I love the “couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t have” business here (first heard around 0:36)—it’s a sly but definitive hook, grabbing the ear and anchoring the song between the verse and the chorus. Check out also the slow but steady way the song develops an almost Springsteen-esque sort of spaciousness, complete with a new, wordless vocal melody introduced in the coda (3:20).
Although they have churned through bass players and second guitarists a bit, Idlewild’s core of Woomble, lead guitarist Rod Jones, and drummer Colin Newton have been together since 1995, during which time the band has evolved from being neophyte, punk-ish Fugazi wannabes into full-fledged musicians with a warm, nimble sound. “Younger Than America” is the lead track on Post Electric Blues, an album released last year in the UK and last week here in the US, by the Nice Music Group. The album was in fact initially available as a free download, and you can still hear the whole thing on the band’s site. MP3 via Insound. Note that this is a direct download, but the song will not play in the Fingertips player because of how Insound links to its MP3s.