(Parlophone; 2005)

By Clayton Purdom | 30 October 2007

Warnings / Promises is the type of album that brings up a lot of questions. Of course it sucks. How could it not? Idlewild was destined for failure after 100 Broken Windows, doomed to never top that burning exclamation point of an album. Ardent and hopeful, cerebral and enigmatic, it was an unexpected explosion of intelligence and guitars after the teary-eyed, pimple-faced thrash of their debut Hope is Important. For those who were there, who found it at the right time, 100 Broken Windows stands like a subconscious monument, an unanswerable question that grows more urgent over time.

Where could they go after that? The populist route was well-worn, and, hell, there were some great hooks on Windows, so why not? Follow-up The Remote Part was a disappointment and a determined retreat from the edge of the cliff they threatened to go flying off of with Windows, but it was a defendable disappointment. No force can withstand the Dawson’s Creek majesty of “American English," if only for the mixtape magic it produces. Those who had tattooed Idlewild on their eyelids after Windows were ambivalent. But at least The Remote Part’s Idlewild was still interesting, still a puzzle to figure out, still a train flying down alien tracks.

But who could’ve guessed Warnings / Promises is where they’d end up? “Love Steals Us From Loneliness” opens things with a rousing, tragic, stadium-sized wail; it’s the best track on the album, but for all the fist-pumping and manic assertions (“My anger is a form of madness!”) it seems hollow. They’ve asked this unanswerable question too many times, and now it sounds like hollow whining.

Their penchant for melody rears its humbled head on “Welcome Home”, a swaggering, country-ish anthem with a chorus like parting clouds. “I Understand It” is a color-by-numbers build-up track, saved exclusively by the band’s epic melodic chops. When the drums start to throttle and the guitars pile up into an epic sing-along, part of the Idlewild fan is repulsed by the skipping populism on display; the other part of the Idlewild fan is, of course, air-drumming.

But why sandwich “I Want A Warning” between these two tracks? And who let the guitars sound like this? A squelching, Verbena-lite “rocker” of faux-menace, “Warning” sounds like a giddy, “look-how-bad-I-am” sneer with Pat Boon levels of insincerity. And if there’s an accusation to be leveled at Idlewild that would undermine their credibility, fanbase and initial appeal entirely, it’s to question their sincerity. This band is nothing without it, and Warnings / Promises fails accordingly.

By the time “Disconnected” rolls around, one mature, mid-tempo ballad has bled into the next for so long that Starsailor has become the nearest sonic relative. Even when the songs work (rarely), the band doesn’t; even when the lyrics work (read: never), the music doesn’t; even when guitars aren’t processed to sound like a cat in a dishwasher, the riffs suck.

How did Idlewild turn into Hoobastank?