|The Law Of Large Numbers ~ CD Ref: CHEM129 CD|
If Belle and Sebastian are booking Bowlie Weekenders again, then surely their fellow Scots in the Delgados should be busy planning their reunion tour. If ever there were an under-appreciated, defunct indie rock band deserving of a second wind, it's the Glaswegian foursome who disbanded in the mid-2000s after five critically acclaimed but commercially ignored albums. However, founding member Emma Pollock may not be so eager to give into the lure of easy nostalgia and big festival guarantees, given the encouraging evolution of her solo career. Where her winsome 2007 solo debut Watch the Fireworks saw Pollock operating well within the Delgados' orchestral pop comfort zone, The Law of Large Numbers takes a more deconstructive tack, gradually breaking down the standard rock band formation to experiment with texture and rhythm, and establish a more absorbing, nocturnal atmosphere.
Pollock's voice is so consistent in its matter-of-fact assertiveness that she can afford to take structural liberties without sacrificing personality. Never one to resort to maudlin sentiment or theatrical vamping to get her point across, Pollock frequently manipulates rhythm to frame her pointed portraits of relationship malaise, whether playing up the confessional tension of "Red Orange Green" with a metronomic tick-tock track, or illustrating the post-breakup confusion of "The Loop" with a flurry of vibraphone tones and harmonic vocal tics. Even when her ambition overshadows the execution, as with the gratuitous Dixieland dressing of "Nine Lives", Pollock still has inspiration to spare, as she eventually cuts through the song's smoky jazz bar haze with an invigorating, group-march denouement.
The Law of Large Numbers is a smartly sequenced record, following a dusk-to-dawn trajectory that begins on familiar ground ("I Could Be a Saint" boasts a grand, Delgados-worthy sing-along chorus) and descends into solitary, dead-of-night piano pieces ("House on the Hill") before embarking on the long, lonely walk toward morning-after redemption, with the pulse of "Chemistry Will Find Me" charting that journey one heavy footstep at the time. The interpersonal narratives laid out over the course of Large Numbers do not culminate in a tidy, conciliatory conclusion or moment of celebration; rather, the album's open-ended quality more accurately reflects the sense of uncertainty and aimlessness we all feel in the wake of a broken relationship. That Pollock recorded this album with her husband (fellow ex-Delgado Paul Savage) only makes her strengths as a storyteller all the more apparent. [7.5]
After a couple of relatively quiet years Emma Pollock redefines herself on her second album, her solo career no longer relying upon residual goodwill earned during her time with the Delgados. Its exquisite centrepiece House on the Hill will be familiar to anyone who attended The Burns Units inauguration at last years Celtic Connections festival, and its even more magisterial in this incarnation. The switch from tempestuous piano runs in the verse to stalled heartbreak in the chorus is potently powerful, the slightly unhinged air it generates packing emotional punch. Nothing else matches it, but some come close: after an opening piano overture the punchy Hug The Harbour leaps from the speakers, while the The Loops eerie waltz mesmerises. After the comparatively underwhelming Watch the Fireworks, The Law of Large Numbers proves solo Pollock just as exciting a prospect as her former band were at their peak a decade ago.
Chris Buckle [4/5]