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The Delgados | Universal Audio | review | alternative | Lollipop
Universal Audio (Chemikal Underground/Transdreamer)
by Tim Den
"No one ever said to me that I should write a symphony" sings guitarist/vocalist Alun Woodward on "Get Action!," summing up in one line The Delgados' consciously "guitar pop" record, Universal Audio, which comes after the group's last two fully-orchestrated albums. I didn't hear any complaints about The Great Eastern and Hate's rapturous strings and percussion and choirs, but I guess the band felt they had to strip it all back down to the beginning - guitars, bass, drums, and vocals - albeit with a much more developed sense of songwriting and plenty of piano. Wherever and whatever their muse takes them, I say go, as long as the songs retain that special Delgados magic.
And on Universal Audio, they do. There isn't a sense of cohesion running through them like on the masterpiece that is Hate, but each song stands on its own as meticulous au natural composition, every one of 'em single worthy. "I Fought the Angels" stomps with melancholy (gotta love that Fridmann drum sound), "Keep on Breathing" a euphoric last call at a pub, and "Everybody Come Down" a "so happy I'm going to pass out" burst of summertime fun. Woodward's entries especially deserve mentioning, since the man has never sounded more confident, capable, and/or inventive. "Is This All That I Came For?" bounces your head with its verses than blossoms into a dreamy chorus, the aforementioned "Get Action!" contains a Magical Mystery Tour-worthy refrain (with more distortion and bombast, of course), and "Girls of Valour" vanquishes all West Coast pop bands with one fell swoop. Just listen to those harmonies! Yeah, sure, I miss the gloomy, ominous, depressive atmospheres of their pasty works too, but damn it, we can't be down ALL the time. The Delgados certainly don't want to be, or else they wouldn't have made Universal Audio such a delightful romp.
Even with all the fancy clothing off and the darkness shoo-ed away, The Delgados pull out songs that swarm with beauty, skill, and purpose, making us believe in the power of "pop songs written with simple chords" all over again.