Friday 31 January 2020

The Wildhearts - Renaissance Men (2019)

Country: UK
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 3 May 2019
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The Wildhearts came along at the point in time that I was drifting away from music for a while, dissatisfied with an apparent sideways step away from the traditional evolution of rock and metal. Had I kept on reading Kerrang! and listening to what The Friday Rock Show became, I'd surely have become a fan of the Wildhearts, because they came from the world of the Quireboys and the Dogs d'Amour, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Main man Ginger Wildheart was the second guitarist with the former right before their debut and early drummer Bam came from and went back to the latter.

Sadly, the Wildhearts' debut, Earth vs. The Wildhearts, came out in 1993 and I'd cancelled my Kerrang! subscription by then, so I missed readers voting it the best of the year. Having devoured this ninth album, a return to the studio after ten years of side projects for the line-up that recorded the band's second album, P.H.U.Q., in 1995, I feel the need to catch up with it a quarter of a century late.

I'm late to this one too, but not so much. It's on Metal Hammer's top twenty metal albums of the year, appropriately described as "the coolest, loudest and snottiest rock album of 2019." It also tops the top fifty rock albums of 2019 at their sister magazine, Classic Rock, knocking Rival Sons into second place. And I'm now on the side of the Wildhearts too, because this is a real stormer of an album, clearly a rock album but a surprisingly heavy one that manages to consistently kick our ass even as it sets up singalong hooks and melodies.

There are so many influences obvious that, without knowing those eight prior albums at all, it feels like they're both looking backwards and forwards in an album that's a statement of intent. All four band members have spent much time in this band, even if mostly in combinations of three of them, and they can be considered the definitive line-up. This is a new beginning at a point three decades into their career.

Knowing the Quireboys and the Dogs d'Amour, I expected some glam here and I wasn't wrong. However, it's less old school Faces and more punked up sleazy Hanoi Rocks but, as befits a band from Newcastle, I would have imagined the band in outfits like they're wearing on the album cover rather than anything with multi-coloured tassels. This is a dream pub band who are good enough to never have to play in a pub again if they don't want to.

They're a lot heavier than Hanoi Rocks here though. Dislocated kicks off the album like Motörhead with some industrial torture in Ginger's vocal approach in the verses, though it turns into a crooning pop punk song in the bridge. The punk here is mostly down to earth basic Ramones style, like in Emergency (Fentanyl Babylon), though there's a visceral political statement there too. However, Let 'em Go is a raucous singalong more in the style of the Dropkick Murphys, something rooted in folk that can't be belted out loudly enough at a pub gig to outdo the audience singing along with it.

Diagnosis is perhaps the oddest song for me. At heart, it's a heads down no nonsense old school Status Quo boogie and it really blisters. However, with an utterly different production job, it could be a Def Leppard song. There's a universality to some of these songs that suggests they could be redone in completely different styles and still work really well. The Renaissance Men is another hard hitting rocker but I could imagine it covered by a ska band like Madness or a new wave band like Bow Wow Wow. "Arriba!"

And there's certainly pop music to be found here, as heavy and in your face as the production makes it all seem. The chorus of Little Flower sounds like a sixties pop song that's become a favourite on the football terraces. Even the lyrics play to the common people. Diagnosis rails against impersonality in healthcare, referencing the Elephant Man for effect. My Kinda Movie wants "Real time, real love, real life." Kudos to Ginger for putting Takashi Miike and Ingmar Bergman in the same line too. My Side of the Bed suggests racism and sexism don't thrive in the streets but in the pages of The Daily Mail.

I loved this album, through and through. The Wildhearts don't sound remotely subtle but Ginger writes clever lyrics. Every song is in your face impactful and deceptively loose but they're all carefully constructed with solid riffs and catchy hooks. The band sound like they could play any size venue but the smaller it is, the more legendary it would feel. If they don't split up yet again, it shouldn't be Earth vs. The Wildhearts, it should be The Wildhearts Conquer the World.

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