At the moment, it’s hard enough to hold back the tears while just turning this album over and wistfully hoping to find a phantom FAC number buried somewhere amid its small type, and that’s before Vini Reilly starts going and adding ‘for anthony’ as an addendum to the song titles. Still, The Durutti Column were never a band to get you over a broken heart, were they? And here, on Idiot Savants, the harmonies are more delicate than ever.
For those of you who need such history lessons, The Durutti Column can almost be described as Factory’s manufactured band, built by Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus from the ashes of other Manchester post-punks who’d fallen by the wayside.
They played at the Factory Club when that’s all there was, and appeared on its first record, as well as providing the first release on Factory Too, the label’s first revival. Digital downloads were available through F4, its last. Although ‘they’ is really only Vini Reilly: any semblance of a band dissolved before the first album, leaving The Durutti Column as essentially his solo project (Vini Reilly IS The Durutti Column insists his official website, taking no prisoners).
Encompassing the talents of collaborating stalwart (or, according to the sleeve notes, Gonzo Drum Master – take your pick) Bruce Mitchell, and new vocalist Poppy Roberts, Idiot Savants continues Reilly’s penchant for delicate, mostly instrumental guitar melodies, here mixing folky influences with indie strings. The result is less pop-friendly than he can sometimes be, but none the worse for it.
There’s not much of his Madchester dabbles of the early ’90s however, apart from the occasional trancey psychedelic swirl – this album is more a wistful memory of his previous dealings with other sensitive Northern souls such as Morrissey and their shared collaborator Stephen Street.
The music is haunting and ethereal, from the fragile opener Better Must Come throughout the seven tracks that follow, using what few vocals there are sparingly and perfectly, fading them in and out of the delicate guitars and other samples. Interleukin 2 sounds as though it was sung and recorded in a decaying cathedral. By Please Let Me Sleep he’s playing with Latin riffs again. Trance loops dance in and out, vocals flitter on the breeze and dub guitars sometimes beat a rhythm through your heart.
Amid the attention-grabbing packaging and snatching to be the first to embrace any new technological format/invention, it’s sometimes easy to forget how simple Reilly’s music can be, how pure and unsullied. He could be a wandering troubadour, coming up on you as you doze by the banks of a river so that you only half acknowledge the songs until he’s gone. When it’s all put together, he creates a series of lullabies of a kind we can only hope we’ll see again.