In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, like the sheep we are, we’re picking songs by the first bands we loved because a significant other loved them.
People often wonder how couples with wildly different views on the big philosophical and moral questions in life can wind up together. The answer is simple: They probably both love Bruce Springsteen, or Scandal, or paella. Billy Crystal says it well in the movie Forget Paris, after he and Debra Winger have just agreed to sleep with the window closed, squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube, and readjust the rearview mirror in the car to each other’s preferences when they’re getting out. “Do you want to talk about religion, politics, whether you want to have kids or not?” she asks. “Nah, that crap will work itself out. We’re fine with the big issues,” he responds. And that’s a relationship; if you can work out the 99 little distractions and petty issues of the day-to-day, the big stuff is navigable. And the same is true for an artist you love: As long as you can agree with a significant other on the basics, the bigger existential and philosophical differences can be accepted.
Getting into the band Idlewild was the first time I had really fallen hard for an artist at the same time I fell for the person who introduced me to them. My new love was a huge Radiohead fan, which didn’t pose any problems, but she also liked some other groups I wasn’t so hot on. In previous relationships, I had always studiously avoided giving in to pressure regarding trying bands I had already made up my mind not to like. Tori Amos, the Grateful Dead, Chisel… all had fallen at the feet of my obstinacy. But after a few weeks of dating, I found myself borrowing my significant other’s car, and lodged in the tape player was a copy of Idlewild’s second studio recording, 2000’s 100 Broken Windows.
The record, like most great albums, had both an element of immediacy and a hidden depth that took a while to unearth. The latter quality isn’t from a lack of catchiness; the songs are pure verse-chorus-verse bliss, all hummable melodies and sing-along anthems. It’s more that the lyrics and motifs took awhile to catch in my mind. The songs are about identity, loss, heartache—all the usual good stuff of pop music—but filtered through a slightly cracked worldview, with the slight dash of pretentiousness to which a college kid could relate a little too easily. (“Roseability,” the track below, is a distillation of everything great about the band in that era: literate, powerful, and catchy as hell.) The refrains are thunderous arena-rock concoctions, fused to minor-key indie rock in a smart and accessible manner. As the band developed, its subsequent albums would lose much of the edge still on display here, but the tunefulness would remain, increasingly polished and refined. (After a hiatus, Idlewild returned in 2015 with Everything Ever Written, another smart sound evolution.)
The relationship eventually ended, but my affair with the band has continued. There’s a special connection with bands you grow up alongside, as both artist and audience change over the years. Sometimes, like in real relationships, the connection sours, and you find yourself listening to a band less and less, until finally you don’t pick up the new album, and it’s over. Other times, it feels like the group is right there with you, learning new things and sharing them with you as you both grow older and (hopefully) a little wiser. Idlewild and I are still together, here in the year of our 15th anniversary.