In the past, The Delgados were known for making big records — grand arrangements, dense layers of sound and epic song structures. Even the bass and drums sounded big, as they had to be beefed up just to compete with the escalating sound surrounding them. The group’s previous effort, HATE, seemed to be the peak of The Delgados’ grandiosity. Strings and effects were the stars of that record, making it one of the more impressive uses of orchestration in pop music in the last ten years. Maybe even 20 years. As big as HATE was, however, there didn’t seem to be any more room at the top. So what did the Scottish group do? They said, “to Hell with it,” and made a guitar pop record.
Universal Audio, The Delgados’ fifth album, is a much simpler album than their last two, yet inklings of the giant sound of yore still remain. Opener “I Fought the Angels” immediately delivers a dramatic, tense hook, with Emma Pollock’s vocals taking center stage over spare, yet heavy guitar chugs. Shortly thereafter, the song explodes into a plodding, yet strangely big sounding verse. Though there are no strings or immense layers of reverb, the song sounds as powerful as The Delgados ever have. This isn’t necessarily the case with the rest of the album, but it reassures the listener that, after all, this is still the same band.
A much simpler, yet extremely enjoyable version of The Delgados shows up on single “Everybody Come Down.” Here the band tries their hand at three chord pop a la Teenage Fanclub, and pulls it off quite well. It’s easily the band’s catchiest song in some time, and that’s saying a lot, as The Delgados are no strangers to a good hook. “Come Undone” and “The City Consumes Us” take on an even more sparse approach, building songs out of minimal piano and vocal arrangements.
Some of Alun Woodward’s tracks actually give Pollock’s some healthy competition for best on the album, which is refreshing as Pollock typically sung on previous album’s better tracks. “Girls of Valour” employs a memorable bassline, driving guitar riffs and a Beach Boys-meets-Cocteau Twins chorus, in which Pollock’s background vocals give the song a dreamy ethereality. And “Bits of Bone” is quirky and off kilter, not far from XTC circa Skylarking or Oranges and Lemons.
On Universal Audio, The Delgados made the right choice in simplifying their approach. There is such a thing as too much, and thankfully, the band went for something more satisfying than an even more indulgent step into orch-pop excess. Universal Audio may not go on record as being the definitive Delgados release, but anyone with a penchant for seamless pop won’t have any problem warming up to it.
Snow Patrol – Final Straw
Teenage Fanclub – Songs from Northern Britain
XTC – Skylarking
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.