Monthly Archives: June 2014

A Beginner’s Guide to – The Wildhearts

In a brand new series for Land of Sunshine we shall be taking a look at some bands who deserve far more recognition than they receive. As a beginners guide for the uninitiated we shall be taking a look at their often extensive back catalogue and taking you, the reader, through the highs, the lows, the OKs and the experimental, drug induced mistakes, so that you may shop for your new favourite bands with confidence.

We kick off the series by taking a look and England’s own The Wildhearts. Formed around a man called Ginger. Singer, guitarist and greatest songwriter who ever lived (I will fight you with swords to defend this point), they have seen many line up changes throughout their 25 year existence. Blending pop, punk, metal, new wave and many other genres, they have produced a fine back catalouge of endlessly inventive and endlessly hummable rock, bolstered by consistently fantastic live shows. Falling outs with each other and their record company along with many a battle with drugs and alcohol have threatened to derail them on more than one occasion, but while Ginger seems more focused on his solo work these days, they still lurk poised, ready for their red headed leader’s call to action.

Note: Each album will be marked out of 10. This grade reflects how the album compares to the rest of the back catalogue rather than music as a whole. Otherwise most of these would be nines and tens.

Don’t Be Happy, Just Worry (1992) 7/10

WildiesDontBeHappyThe band’s recording history began with an EP called ‘Mondo Akimbo a-go-go’. I have not included that here for two reasons. Firstly you’re very unlikely to get your hands on a copy, and secondly all four tracks were remixed and included here on this eight track mini-album.

Showing, straight out of the gate, Ginger’s knack for songwriting. Songs like ‘Turning American’ and ‘Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes’ wear their influences on their sleeves but still highlight a keen sense of melody and an unending supply of riffs that would go on to be the template for the band’s career. ‘Splattermania’ is a delightful ode to Ginger’s love of horror movies and ‘Weekend (5 Long Days)’ can still get me in the mood for Friday night to this day. Closer ‘Dreaming In A’ is an underrated classic and doesn’t sound quite like anything else they have ever done.

It’s rough, it’s ready, it’s a bloody brilliant debut that would put most bands, 10 years into their careers, to shame.

Highlights – Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes, Splattermania, Dreaming In A.

Earth Vs. The Wildhearts (1993) 9/10

Earth_Vs_The_WildheartsThe point where it all began for most fans and still considered their magnum opus by many. From the opening riff to the closing grind, it is a raw, rollicking, beautiful bastard of an album, full of angry guitars and singalong vocals. Ginger’s cynical and often darkly humorous lyrics really begin to shine through here with song titles such as ‘Greeting From Shitsville’, ‘Love You ‘Till I Don’t’ and ‘My Baby Is A Headfuck’ displaying  a keen sense of humour even in the darkest of times. Each song contains more riffs than most bands fit on an entire album and the aforementioned ‘…Headfuck’ closes with three increasingly epic guitar solos, one of which is played by none other than David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson (in what is believed to be his final recording before his death).

It is one of the most startlingly assured debut albums of all time that deserves to be ranked among Appetite For Destruction, Ten, and Led Zeppelin I, it’s that good! So why only 9 out of 10 you say? Well if anyone can top this album, it’s Ginger himself.

POP FACT!: Stevie Lange, who provided the awesome backing vocals on ‘Loveshit’ is best known on UK shores as the voice behind “Whooooah Bodyform, Bodyform for you!”

Highlights: Loveshit, My Baby Is A Headfuck, Love You ‘Till I Don’t.

Here’s the three minute carpet bombing that is Suckerpunch!

Fishing For Luckies (1994) 10/10

5165iht63yLSo how do you follow up an album like Earth Vs The Wildhearts? Merely rest on your laurels and repeat the formula? Well not if you’re Ginger. Instead you release a six track ‘mini’ album where four of the songs run to over the 7 minute mark.

Fishing For Luckies is The Wildhearts’ epic, pure and simple. The long songs are simply incredible in their scope and breadth while at the same time still truck along like classic pop songs. If you even notice that ‘Do The Channel Bop’ or ‘Schitzophonic’ are around 8 minutes long on the first listen then you’re a liar. These are prog behemoths disguised as four minute pop songs. Eight minute epics that you can still sing every word to. If you wish to fully understand the genius of Ginger in 11:36 minutes then sprawling closer ‘Sky Babies’, Ginger’s ode to life beyond the stars, sums up everything you need to know. Starting as a perky punk song, it derails at around the three minute mark, spiraling into an epic midsection that defies a single listen. before effortlessly sliding into a beautiful middle eight or perhaps middle sixty four is more appropriate, as the original song never resurfaces, the new sections just keep coming and coming until we all collapse, spent and sweaty. It really is one of the most stunning pieces of songwriting ever committed to record.

And what of the two diminutive numbers? Well one is a rowdy drinking song called ‘Geordie In Wonderland’. So catchy it was even played on Top of The Pops. and the other is called ‘If Life Is Like A Love Bank, I Want An Overdraft’, a song which Ginger once described thusly – “I wanted to write the worst song ever written, but it turned out quite good so we released it as a single”. Bastard!

Highlights: Impossible to choose. Only six songs, every one perfect in its own way.

Here’s the aforementioned ‘worst song ever written’ and its NSFW video.

The album was rereleased twice with different track listings, once without the band’s permission and once by the band themselves. The other versions are worth checking out for the extra songs (especially the band sanctioned version) but for my money, the original six track is the best there is.

PHUQ (1995) 10/10

phuq-11407165-frntlSo here it is, my favourite album by The Wildhearts.

PHUQ (and yes, it’s pronounced ‘fuck’) takes the epicness of Fishing For Luckies and condenses it into Earth Vs style melodic blasts. Opener ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’ may be one of the catchiest songs they’ve ever recorded, but songs like the staccato march of ‘V-Day’, the dark grind of ‘Be My Drug’, or the Beatles-esque ballad ‘In Lilly’s Garden’ showcase sounds never before explored by the band. ‘Caprice’ is hands down one of the best songs they’ve ever written and every other song has a unique shape of its own. Even the singalong bonus track entitled ‘Don’t Worry About Me’ has become a staple chant of the fans while waiting for the band to return for the encore. How many bands can claim that?

More varied than Earth Vs… and more compact than Fishing For Luckies. PHUQ is everything that makes this band so great in one complete package. Just fucking buy it!

Highlights: V Day, Caprice, Nita Nitro (just the whole damn thing really!)

Now enjoy The Wildhearts at their most anthemic.

Endless, Nameless (1997) 5/10

The-Wildhearts-Endless-Nameless-118964Ah the difficult third album. Rumours have ranged from drugs to internal tensions to pressure from the record company to conform to a sound more akin to The Prodigy or The Chemical Brothers, both hugely popular at the time. Although I always suspected his new found kinship with Canadian metal madman Devin Townsend was no coincidence. Perhaps only Ginger truly knows. What we do know is that Endless, Nameless is a cacophonous mess. Albeit a fascinating one.

The hallmarks are all there. The big riffs, the melodic vocals, the driving drums. However every song is awash with huge levels of top end distortion. This works in some cases, like the epic closer ‘Thunderfuck’ or ‘Urge’, still one of the best songs in their back catalogue. But many of the tracks  just sound like great Wildhearts songs that you can’t quite hear properly, as if they’re being played thrown a blown speaker. It makes for a frustrating listening experience. Bad songs are one thing, but good songs ruined by bad production are worse in many ways.

There is still a lot to love about Endless, Nameless but, after the epic triptych which proceeded it, it was definitely a big disappointment even to the most devoted fans. Definitely the sore thumb of the oeuvre.

Highlights: Urge, Thunderfuck, Junkenstein.

Here’s the confusingly alluring Urge.

The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed (2003) 7/10

The_Wildhearts_Must_Be_DestroyedTo no one’s real surprise The Wildhearts pretty much imploded after the release of Endless, Nameless. Ginger threw himself into a number of projects ranging from the good (Super$hit 666) to the superlative (Silver Ginger 5’s ‘Black Leather Mojo’. Seriously buy this album!) to the frankly bizarre (Clam Abuse). It would be six years before the public would see another Wildhearts album and one that would see a complete line up change from Endless, Nameless (seeing the return of CJ and Stidi from the Earth Vs line up) and a return to a more pop oriented sound. Sometimes a bit too pop.

Completely moving away from the wild distortion of the previous album TWMBD is easily the most straight pop record of their career. Massive singalong numbers like ‘Vanilla Radio’ and ‘Top Of The World’ sit alongside mid-paced rockers like ‘Someone That Won’t Let Me Go’ and ‘One Love, One Life, One Girl’. The closest they ever get to metal is in stomping opener ‘Nexus Icon’ and ‘Get Your Groove On’ which features Justin Hawkins on typically high backing vocals.

It may sound like I’m down on TWMBD but I’m not, I’m really not. It’s a great album that most bands would give their hind teeth to put their name on. It’s just that us fans know that Ginger can shit out songs like this before breakfast. Probably a great intro album for those less inclined to heavier music.

Highlights – Vanilla Radio, Nexus Icon, Someone That Won’t Let Me Go.

Everybody! “Where’s my Elvis? Where’s my Elvis? Where’s my Elvis?”

The Wildhearts (2007) 6/10

thewildheartsThe Wildhearts’ self titled album is the one I find the hardest to appraise. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, it’s just not quite special in the way a Wildhearts album should be. Every song is solid, in fact it’s incredibly consistent, but they all sound a little like lesser versions of their predecessors. Opener ‘Rooting For The Bad Guy’ aims for the highs of Fishing For Luckies with its eight plus minutes of ever shifting riffage but never quite reaches the heights of ‘Inglorious’ and its peers, and the rest, well I’m listening  to it now, and it’s good, it’s really fucking good. It brings back some of the heaviness of the earlier stuff while retaining the pop of the last album and ‘The New Flesh’ is incredibly infectious. It’s just not special. Not Wildhearts special anyway. Put it this way. Question a fan on her or his favourite Wildhearts songs and I’d be surprised to find that many from this album.

Highlights: The New Flesh. Rooting For The Bad Guy, Destroy All Monsters.

Stop Us If You’ve Heard This One Before vol.1 (2008) 6/10

Wildhearts-StopUsI almost didn’t include this one as it’s a covers album but as it’s officially part of the discography I felt compelled. Also it was made with the best intentions. Rather than just churning out a bunch of popular songs to get album sales, instead the band picked songs by bands they love in order to bring them to the attention of their fans, in the hope that in doing so we would go out and further investigate their back catalogues. Pretty cool huh? Each page of the CD booklet even has a little explanation of the song and the band to give you a little insight.

And what of the songs? Well as you might expect its a mixed bag. No one is going to enjoy somebody’s compilation tape as much as the creator, but the band really give it their all with each song. It also marks the only time that every band member has contributed lead vocals on a Wildhearts album. In a wide array of genres from a storming cover of Fugazi’s ‘Waiting Room’ (with bassist Scott and guitarist CJ handling the dual lead vocals with aplomb) to a spirited version of ‘Ice Hockey Hair’ by Super Furry Animals, the band clearly show a lot of respect for the source material. Sure the covers are faithful to the originals but then that’s the whole point. I do have one criticism however. CJ you got the lyrics wrong in the chorus to Regurgitator’s ‘Everyday Formula’. Shame on you CJ!

So there you go. Not an essential Wildhearts album but a great curio for the fans who might even find themselves broadening their musical horizons a little.

Highlights: Waiting Room, Possum Kingdom, Geez Louise.

Chutzpah (2009) 8/10

ChutzpahOur time is nearly at an end as we approach the last Wildhearts albums to date. But don’t be too sad. It’s a stonker!

You know how I said that the self titled album lacked something special? Well what ever that intangible factor may be, this album has it. Seemingly taking all the good aspects of their last three studio albums and smashing them together with a new, almost industrial sheen, Chutzpah is a lean, dangerous beast. Most songs only run to around the three minute mark. They get in, grab you by the lapels, scream in your face, and are gone before you have time to even wipe the spit from your brow. Not that these are all screaming fast metal songs, most in fact are decidedly mid paced. They’re just incredibly efficient. Following a decidedly un-Ginger ‘verse-chorus-verse’ pattern for the most part but without ever leaving you wanting more. No stand outs, no weak songs, just a gloriously unit that work beautifully as a whole album. If I was forced to pick favourites it would probably be the two songs that bookend the album. Exhilarating opener ‘The Jackson Whites’ with its air of menace and deceptively catchy chorus and the title track closer with its pulverizing riff and, believe it or not, Vocodered chorus are as strong a foundation as any album could hope for.

If Chutzpah ends up being The Wildhearts swansong then they went out with their heads held high, kicking and screaming. Let’s hope not though eh?

Highlights: The Jackson Whites, Chutzpah, You Are Proof That Not All Women Are Insane.

Further listening:

Chutzpah Jnr – Eight awesome outtakes from the Chutzpah sessions including an unlikely experiment in Euro-Pop.

Coupled With – A collection of B-sides from The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed era. The Wildhearts are a rare band whose b-sides are just as good as the a-sides. There is literally no drop in quality.

Every B-side from Earth Vs to PHUQ  – Same as above only better. Contains some of their greatest tunes. Girlfriend Clothes, 29 x The Pain, Hate The World Day. Better than most band’s a-sides. You’ll have to work a bit harder for these though as there was no official compilation. Your best bet is to pick up The Works compilation which contains a fair few of them.