WARNINGS/PROMISES

Idlewild

More than once, Scotland's Idlewild has been the next big "it." Great alt-rock hope, cross-pond U.K. breakthrough, second coming of the Smiths/R.E.M./etc. -- nothing has quite taken hold, though. At this point the group should just be satisfied knowing it's one of the smartest, sharpest rock acts around and its always-hopeful cult U.S. audience (which had to wait months for the band's fifth album to see domestic release) is happy to have such a great band all to themselves.

Then again, there's always the chance that "Warnings/Promises" could be the one that finally puts Idlewild over the top. Written collaboratively with a slightly new lineup, the disc keeps singer Roddy Woomble's literate lyrics up front, and, beginning with the grand "Love Steals Us From Loneliness," rarely veers from the vaguely despondent or outright melancholic. Yet despite the words' downbeat bent, the music never fails to deliver when it comes to giant hooks. The deliberate strum of "Welcome Home" features a subdued but infectious chorus right where you'd expect one, and the acoustic guitars are beefed up with teasing interjections from a galvanizing electric lead for maximum anthemic effect. "I Want a Warning" similarly features a queasily distorted guitar piercing the already slash-and-burn track.

"I Understand It," "Not Just Sometimes but Always" and "Disconnected," when compared with R.E.M.'s latest efforts, underline how far the latter has fallen when it comes to self-consciously poetic songs that make you both think and sing along. Such tracks are the bread and butter of young American guitar rock fans, and there's no reason alternately jangly and jagged songs such as "As if I Hadn't Slept," the arena-ready (and half-familiar) power-ballad "Goodnight" or the deceptively sprightly "El Capitan" shouldn't resonate with them and influence other sensitive, introspective gloom-and-melodic guitar merchants.

-- Joshua Klein

Idlewild is scheduled to appear Sunday at the Black Cat.