Idlewild has always been the little band that couldn't. The Scottish quartet started as a neo-grunge act in 1999, right around the time the Britpop scene had a run on atmospheric balladeers, and they shifted to hooky modern rock just as music fans on both sides of the Atlantic started digging the new-wave revival. The band's had problems other than bad timing—it's also been low on timeless, take-it-to-the-bank songs. The albums sound fine, but don't merit manic enthusiasm.
Idlewild's fourth effort, Warnings/Promises, is the easily the best of its career, though again, it's hard to point to too many songs that should be locked away as examples of this rock era's peak. Which isn't to say there's nothing memorable here. The anthemic "I Understand It" and "El Capitan" contain the kind of openhearted sentiment and shout-to-the-rafters choruses that spark fluke hits. Solidly built tracks like "As If I Haven't Slept" and "Blame It On The Obvious Ways" make a good case for foursquare rock 'n' roll, while "Too Long Awake" and its abruptly truncated, otherworldly emanations show that Idlewild has an underutilized facility for abstraction.
Lead singer Roddy Woomble also writes some of the keenest lyrics in modern rock, dissecting unfixable relationships by describing their watershed moments. But Woomble's Michael Stipe-like voice and his band's blandly big-rock moves—even on sharply observed songs like "Love Steals Us From Loneliness"—have a lot to do with why Idlewild has had a hard time forging a singular personality. Warnings/Promises establishes Idlewild as a very good band, but also indicates that it probably won't ever be a great one.