By Dave Challiner
***Greatest hits compilations are often geared to provide the listener with an opportunity to look back and consider the trajectory of a band’s career. Scottish Fiction, the aptly named retrospective for hyper-literate Glaswegians Idlewild, certainly aims to do so. Sadly, it does so for the worse, rather than the better, only serving to highlight the creative paucity of more recent material in comparison with past glories. In an ironic sense, it also confirms the REM comparisons that have popped up so often over the course of their career. Both bands have emerged from tearaway beginnings and then ploughed fertile middle-period furrows before succumbing, sadly, to the law of diminishing returns.
Right from the off, the disparity in quality is clear. Sandwiched between the majestic ‘You Held the World in Your Arms’ and Gertrude Stein-referencing ‘Roseability’, recent single ‘No Emotion’ conforms to its title. This remains the pattern throughout the album with later, phoned-in work slipped in at frequent intervals to make it more palatable. Frankly, that a third of this album is made up of these tracks smacks of self-mythologising or record company interference.
This is a shame, as at least half of this album is made up of brilliant, raucous indie. Huge choruses leap out from every corner: the in-the-round hook of ‘When I Argue I See Shapes’; the weepy balladry of ‘American English’; the classic ‘Little Discourage’. Idlewild have always had a way with hooks. And way back when, as cocksure upstarts on the make, they sure knew it. Each one is delivered with the panache that comes from absolute self-belief, a quality sadly lacking in the more ephemeral Warnings/Promises and Make another World.
It isn’t clear who exactly this album is aimed at: older fans will already own the better tracks, and newer ones would be far better served by a collection based on quality, not scope. Its construction does, however, give us an accurate account of a career; alas, it is all the worse for it.
By Dave Challiner