The Delgados were one of the UK’s most consistently excellent bands. The Scottish quartet, of whom singer Emma Pollock was a founding member, released five studio albums, and were Mercury Prize nominated for their fantastic third, The Great Eastern, in 2000. That would prove to be their finest hour, but their other records come just as highly recommended.
Since their split in 2005, Pollock has followed a solo path. Her 2007 debut, Watch the Fireworks, was enjoyable but suffered from recent-memory comparisons to her former group. The Law of Large Numbers – released through Chemikal Underground, the label set up by members of The Delgados and once home to Mogwai and Arab Strap – benefits from further time having passed. It opens in stately fashion, Hug the Piano a solo on the titular instrument. But anyone expecting a wholly delicate affair will be in for a shock when Hug the Harbour follows – clean guitar motifs and precise percussion give the song a military feel, and Pollock’s voice sounds sharper than ever. The warmth of her accent remains, but her words cut deeper.
Which is a good thing given the lyrical treats spread across this set – though her first vocal relies heavily on easy rhymes, come the midpoint of this release the ante has received a considerable uplift. House on the Hill is exquisite, a song of amour going awry as the object of one’s affection finds the arms of another: “I wish that I could have it all again,” Pollock sighs, “but now it’s too late for me”. In her voice there’s real ache, and the silencing of the music around her on the chorus emphasises this longing.
At the opposite end of the sonic spectrum is Red Orange Green, which features edgier, focused instrumentation; it’s more post-punk than orchestral pop. Here, Pollock’s on the attack, despite initial promises of protection. “I get the feeling that there’s more going on here,” she supposes, as trust turns to doubt and the song layers on stabbing piano keys and metronomic percussion.
While sentimental on occasion, and certainly possessed by a lovelorn spirit that should connect with all but the hardest of hearts, The Law of Large Numbers never comes across cloyingly, its content ably handled and expressed with the same cliché-free purity The Delgados mastered. Not that this will surprise long-term Pollock fans, whose high expectations will surely be met here. -- Mike Diver