It’s kind of strange to have Idiot Pilot back. It’s not like they made an enormous splash over a decade ago – they’ve always been a relatively underground proposition – but to see them emerge again without warning into the current musical climate only serves to highlight them as trendsetters that no one could’ve ever predicted. Back then, their combination of indie-rock, post-hardcore and electronica was a hard pivot from the norm, but it’s a sound that, for better or worse, has exploded into one of the default musical settings in modern rock. That’s not to say that Idiot Pilot are arriving into 2019 ready to be greeted with open arms, and as lead single The Pushover has shown, they’re not immune to stumbling on their way back through the door, but Blue Blood has potential to be one of the year’s more interesting comebacks on principle alone.
Then again, even that might be talking a bit too preemptively, as even after multiple listens, Blue Blood leaves very little impression. And to a degree, that’s not entirely Idiot Pilot’s fault; they’re clearly playing to what they know, but when that’s a fusion of underwhelming 2000s grunge and a garnish of programmed elements that feels unavoidably rudimentary and clumsy, it struggles to really pick up much traction. It makes for an album that’s hardly irredeemable, but doesn’t possess nearly enough positive qualities to really shine in any significant way, and running longer than it reasonably should on top of all of that only makes it feel as though Idiot Pilot have dropped the ball even more.
It doesn’t help that it’s rather easy to isolate exactly where Blue Blood goes wrong either, chiefly in the choice of rock that Idiot Pilot have chosen to use to build this album upon. The intention and ambition is clear, and with the chunky guitars and natural gravitation towards expansive arrangements, the brand of untouched yet serviceable radio-rock of a band like the Foo Fighters feels like the most natural comparison point, and on a track like Murderous with its heavier guitars and slightly more complex rhythms, there’s a solid approximation in there that can even surpass that band’s most recent material in places. But also like the Foo Fighters, Idiot Pilot are far too easily swayed into drifting into meandering, milquetoast plodding that doesn’t do them any favours. It’s not difficult to see how much tracks like Mammoth or Silver Needle want to be these enormous, sweeping anthems either (particularly the former in how it draws numerous parallels to U2), but with an overweight, chugging guitar tone and Michael Harris’ vocals that audibly struggle to pick up momentum or presence and subsequently drown out some rather interesting lyrical details, Blue Bloods becomes a particular slog to get through, especially in one sitting.
And then there’s the electronics, the meat of what makes (or at least made) Idiot Pilot a unique presence, and while it’s admirable that they’re trying to fuse such presumably incompatible elements with the gusto that they have, it’s rarely something that works all that well, turning an already turgid rock experience into one that only feels more checked out regarding how to make itself work better. The lighter skip of Asylum and the buzzy, ‘80s-inflected synths of Widespread Devastation are definitely the best examples for finding ways to work around the rock elements to benefit each side, but too often, Idiot Pilot seem content with slapping on a backbeat or synth line with little rhyme or reason when it comes to how the final product would turn out. This would be more understandable a decade ago when there was still a relative lack of electronic rock finesse overall, but given how much that sound has evolved and been refined into something that can actually work, this is an unfortunately amateurish way of presenting it here.
It’s not like everything Idiot Pilot do is awful either, but the pileup of misguided ideas or less-than-spectacular execution really leaves its mark in a significant way. Sure, there’s an underscoring intent that has some workability here, but it rarely feels capitalised on to any great extent, and thus Idiot Pilot fall short of what they potentially could be. That’s not to say that there was much expectation for Blue Blood anyway, but for the first lot of new material from this duo in twelve years, it falls desperately short of what’s built up by that fact alone. There will be some who’ll get a kick out of this, but it’s hard to see that being a truly significant number overall.
For fans of: Foo Fighters, Deftones, Fightstar
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Blue Blood’ by Idiot Pilot is out now.