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Indie Rock

Overlooked Classics: Idlewild – Captain

The mini-album (pretty much ’90’s Indie jargon for EP) Captain was the first proper release by Idlewild, on Steve Lamacq’s Deceptive Records, following excellent early singles on Edinburgh based Human Condition Records & boutique Indie label Fierce Panda.

I think one of the major criticisms I’ve read about Captain, & this includes from the band themselves, is that it’s not really a coherent collection of songs, but more an advert for the bands live show. I’m not sure I agree with this assessment 100% as I think Captain is a fine selection of songs, although it does reflect their chaotic & noisy live performances (at that time) perfectly. One NME journalist imaginatively described their live sound as “a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs,” & this is apparent on at least a few of the tracks here.

It’s important to not believe the hype regarding the chaos & noise though, as buried in the sonic assault of American Alt-Rock guitar fuzz & furious hardcore drumming are really decent songs with hummable pop melodies & thoughtful, poetic lyrics.

Opening track Self Healer is probably the closest that Captain comes to the hyped descriptions of their sound. A frenzied punk scream-a-long, drums beat at breakneck speed & furiously thrashed, distorted guitars. The vocals range from the intense screaming of the opening “1,2,3,4,” to the melodic crooning of the “a song is a beautiful lie” of the chorus.

Annihilate Now! is moody, atmospheric Alt Rock. Pitched somewhere between the Pixies & Sonic Youth, it’s chirpy, Pop verses give way to fuzzy, anthemic choruses in a pure expression of the “Grunge formula” (that’s quite verses & loud choruses to the uninitiated, something sadly missing in the Post-Loudness War world).

The title track, with it’s atmospheric speak singing in a faux-American accent & the primal howling of the big chorus, resembles Slint on steroids. The spidery, repetitive riffing of Spiderland recycled into a more upbeat, Post-Punk tempo. This is a personal favourite for me & I remember seeing them play extended improvised endings to it on several occasions when I saw them live. The track would often end with guitarist Rod Jones, alone on the stage, laying on his back, playing a massively distorted & detuned version of the main riff for ages.

Last Night I Missed All The Fireworks is jangly, uptempo Punk Pop with the simple lyric “Last night I missed all the fireworks, I must be working too hard,” repeated throughout the verses. The song codas off with furious power chord riffing & strangled, vocal yelps.

Satan Polaroid was the other “single” from Captain (alongside Annihilate Now!), by which I mean songs which were promoted to radio. It’s another cheery Pop number, but with ambitious multi-tracked vocals (including harmonies!) & melancholic, mournful melodies. Fuzzy Alt Rock at it’s best.

Closer You Just Have To Be Who Are takes the quiet Slint style speak-singing verses, menacingly atmospheric, repetitive riffing, & furiously screamed choruses & turns them into a furious Grunge Pop song designed to make an audience bounce. Perhaps of all the songs on Captain, You Just Have To Be Who You Are, is the one which most closely resembles an “advert” for the bands live show. After a couple of the amazing verse/chorus, quiet/loud sequences, the song caries on into an improvisational noise jam. Guitars are thrashed as energetically as Idlewild ever have. After a minute or so of this, the improvisation slows down & slowly fades out over a much quieter, moodier section with whispered vocals (“the captains always been my friend”) & Sonic Youth-esque plucking of guitar strings above the nut. It’s a fitting end to a thrilling experience.

As Captain is not longer available through digital retailers & used copies are increasingly harder to find, I’ll share YouTube links of the tunes here.

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