This review is from: The Great Eastern (Audio CD)
"Peloton", the Delgados' previous release, was the finest of 1998 so "The Great Eastern" contained considerable baggage. Often follow-ups disappoint. Either a band opt for a carbon copy or their new direction is less appealing. Fortunately, "The Great Eastern" retains the traits that make them endearing but these are enhanced by Dave Fridmann's panoramic production.
In a music world which echoes that of business and media in embracing all that is big, The Delgados remain refreshingly understated. Whilst their avowed intent was to create the most grandiose record ever, their lyrical introspection contradicts that aim. They capture perfectly self-doubt and self-loathing as exemplified by "American Trilogy"'s opening: "I became accustomed to a kind of social servitude and no one, I mean no one, could accept what I had become. Selfish, bitter, weak, Enough to make you sick." The tension between such sentiments and the chorus' orchestral sweep create a rare emotive depth.
Such conflict is equally effective in "Thirteen Gliding Principles" in which Emma Pollock and Alun Woodward" take alternate vocal lines and give the impression of a discussion at cross purposes, suggesting a more polite version of the aggressive interplay between Prolapse's Mick Derrick and Linda Steelyard. The swooshing of the string section adds to its impact. "Accused of Stealing", with Emma's smooth vocals and its subtle melody changes, is another highlight on a record bulging with sublime moments.
"Knowing when to Run" seems less personalised in its account of child abuse but from the opening, grandly funereal "The Past that Suits You Best" to the minimal, downbeat piano of the country-tinged closer, "Make your Move", "The Great Eastern" is an emotionally rich journey. Whilst their lyrics immaculately portray personal failings, their exquisite music mean that they avoid being purely a soundtrack for wallowing. Whereas their Chemikal Underground labelmates, Mogwai, attempt to subvert conventional song structures, The Delgados triumphantly prove that, with a bit of tinkering, classic songwriting and arranging can still be a source of myriad delights.