June 20, 2003

Ian McCulloch "Slideling"

Why is getting older often viewed as getting less...good? Think about it: when a band or an artist grows long in the tooth, one thing usually happens. Their fans stay devoted to their idol--almost always turning into apologists--
while critics/labels/the rest of the world fails to see them as anything more than a geezer on a nostalga trip. What makes this even more disturbing is that this stands in contrast with the idea that if a band struggles, works hard in the studio, and tours a lot, then the experience makes them a better band. After all, would you rather hear a tight band or a loose, not-very-together band?

Truth be told, there's good reason why critical eyes kind of roll when an older, more established artist returns with a new record: consistency. Sure, that might not seem like a valid complaint, but does anyone really look to the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Mike Love's Beach Boys--or, heck, Pet Shop Boys, Elvis Costello, or New Order--for innovative new ideas in music? Sad to say, but they don't, because these acts all have a long and winding history, and it's one that the fans expect. If they differ too much from their natural paths, the fans get restless and the critics are often merciless; if they stay too much on the same road--then, really, is it an artistic statement, or is it one that's done to satisfy "the fans?" Dicey issue, isn't it?

Ian McCulloch's third solo album, Slideling doesn't offer you anything you wouldn't expect from an Ian McCulloch solo album. Perhaps that's the best approach, and it's one that certainly serves Slideling well. Considering the fact that Echo & The Bunnymen is considered one of the influences of Britpop, there's really no need for McCulloch to try and prove anything. Heck, thanks to the success of bands such as Coldplay, Travis and Pulp, it's really no surprise that the tried-and-true sounds of Slideling actually sound very modern and quite contemporary. It's as if the newer generation of musicians who were influenced by McCulloch have, through their own success, have paved the way for him to enjoy a new chapter in his already stellar career. Of course, when you're one of the best underrated songwriters of your generation, then your writing capacity is not really an issue.

Slideling finds McCulloch looking back on life, but not with a real sense of regret. He's not particularly sad; he's not happy--he's a man at peace with his lot in life. As a young man, he was extremely successful; while the past few years haven't been quite as successful, they've not been a real disappointment, either. While the album occasionally hints at lost youth (especially on "Seasons"), McCulloch doesn't dwell on the subject. When the album kicks off with the excellent "Love in Veins," you realize that McCulloch's not making the missteps of Candleland and Mysterio--and the inital strength of Slideling never weakens, either. McCulloch sounds upbeat, excellent, and in fine form--especially on "Slidling," which features Coldplay's Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland. Indeed, it's almost as if his friendship with Coldplay--aka a friendship with youth--has given McCulloch a creative second wind--and in a way, I'd love to hear a more direct, obvious collaboration between the two.

It's good to hear McCulloch again; he's certainly an artist who still is years away from being past his prime. If anything, he's doing better now than he did for most of the 1990s, and that's saying a lot. Slideling is one of the most intelligent and relaxing Britpop albums of 2003. Not too heavy, not too dark, not too light, not too pop--just like always. Slideling is one of the better pop albums this year; it might not be the hippest anymore, but when you grow older, who cares about being hip?

--Joseph Kyle

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