Talking about the Delgados’ new slab, Hate, without invoking the weighty twin reference terrors of the Beatles and the Flaming Lips is impossible in this context, so let’s just get it out of the way right now, ’cause the former haunts this record and the latter helps color it. One of several crowning, majestic moments of Hate is the track “All You Need is Hate” which somehow finds a way to marry latter-day Paul McCartney high-pop style with a straight-faced conjuring of John Lennon’s most bitter, dark lyrical alleyways. Delgados’ guitarist/vocalist Alun Woodward sings simply, “You ask me what you need / Hate is all you need / You ask me what I see / Hate is all I see.”
It’s both devastating and dashing in its donning of orchestral strings and climactic moments and bashing drums and sweeping changes. …
These sonic environments are a result of the Delgados’ trademark classic pop song-styling. (They actually seem to conceive of songs with a beginning, middle and end and they spare no expense on the hooks or, particularly, the devastating climaxes.) But just as much, they’re a result of the collaboration with producer and Mercury Rev/Flaming Lips cohort Dave Fridmann.
All of Hate is touched with such gorgeous, intimate-unto-explosive-unto-soaring production and atmosphere that it’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of the music and not let the demons that inhabit the lyrics sneak into your head. But they do, gradually. Which is, of course, the point. When the highlight of a pop record steals the sounds of idyll (i.e. South Seas marimba, delicately plucked violin, twinkling piano) and puts them to use as the lovely backdrop to the rationalizing of a child killer you’ve really got something to worry about when you dream. But that’s “Child Killers” for you. The Delgados are sneaky that way.
Even more gut-wrenching is Woodward’s sing-song bait-and-switch, sung over heart-swelling strings on “If This is A Plan”: “If this is a plan / then I’m dead where I stand / I’ve been cursing the truth / like I’m cursing my youth.”
But guitarist/vocalist Emma Pollock is the sneakiest. Her voice is a life-worn lovely lullaby delivering disquieting missives like this on “Coalman”: “We have time enough to take you / And we will take you.” Or on “Never Look at the Sun”: “I’m hoping and praying there’s one life worth saving” before half-wondering, “It’s not / too / late.” And you’re done for.
In your heart you know that sadness is everywhere, every day, just biding its time waiting to barge in on your carefully constructed day. The Delgados have simply perfected pop songcraft enough to let in a glimpse of that day, a reminder. But they let you see it through your most rosy-colored specs. Bastards.
The Delgados will perform Saturday, April 5 at the Shelter (431 E. Congress, Detroit). For information, call 313-961-MELT.
E-mail Chris Handyside at firstname.lastname@example.org.