I haven’t even bought it yet (which explains why the above picture is markedly inferior to the ones for both P.H.U.Q. (1995) and Fishing for Luckies (1996), which I snapped with my own fair hands), but I will at some point. It’s just a bit of a limbo album for me, and genuinely not a high point for the band itself (so says me).
I have written in the past about how I went off new rock music that was coming out between about late 2000 and early 2004, and this fell into that limbo period. I didn’t like the way rock/metal was getting trendy, I was getting a bit sick of it, Noisecore was winding down, other stuff was becoming more interesting to me, and I dunno, I just felt a disconnect with anything in the Kerrang!/Metal Hammer cultural sphere. The Wildhearts album might have been worse than usual for me at this time, too. They were a band I’d been a fan of from early teens on, and I figured that when they split that was it. Their reformation was not only the re-opening of a musical chapter in my life as a music fan that I thought had closed, but it also felt like there was a party going on to which I hadn’t been invited. Besides, the reformation featured proper old school Wildies like C.J and Stidi: they weren’t my Wildhearts.
So I ignored them, just like I did Old Man Gloom, Isis, Converge and Mastodon at the time. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that rock albums by bands I was paying attention to – Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queens Of The Stone Age, Cave In, System Of A Down – at this time were uniformly disappointing. Even the debuting Audioslave, who I had a lot emotionally invested in, left me cold with an album I had assumed was guaranteed gold. Yeah, I ignored the return of the Wildhearts, as well as the reunion tour and any singles that accompanied.
I was right and I was wrong. I was right because this is the least good Wildhearts album of them all. Because something about it seems a tad unfinished, feels a bit wrong. I was wrong because I have since learned never to doubt Ginger. This is mainly on account of he’s hardly written a bad song, so we can infer from that a bad album is unlikely. It’s just disappointing by his standards.
That’s not to say I don’t love some songs on it, because there is plenty to love: especially the singles. I don’t know how I got away with not having ‘Vanilla Radio’ for the years I did, because it is a fantastic, aggressive/melodic song that even has time for football chanty bits. The other track that stands out is the aggressive, almost hardcore, ‘Nexus Icon’. Great songs both, although ‘Vanilla Radio’ is pretty clearly the superior.
Apart from these, though, it’s not stunning stuff. There are great moments, such as in the chorus of ‘Only Love’, when some female backing vocals interject to enthusiastically proclaim the title almost as though this was one of those moments when you thought Marc Bolan was awesome (and then you listened to other stuff he did and decided he wasn’t). But… but this song reminds you of the good bits of seventies glam, sticks it in a modern rock song and ends up with an awesome bit of pop mastery, where the verses are just breathing space between excellent choruses.
Looking at the track-list, more titles stick out to me actually. The song between ‘Only Love’ and ‘Vanilla Radio’, ‘Someone that Won’t Let Me Go’, is one that I recall really liking too. The issue in general with this album, though, is that the Wildhearts had really toned down any metal aspects of their patented (not really patented) pop-punk-metal alchemy at this point, leaving us with an album of good – but not amazing – pop punk.
Now, pop punk in general was in a bit of a state by 2003. The mighty NOFX (pretty insanely undervalued by non punk rockers) were rather stagnant by this stage; after peaking in 1997 with the near-perfect So Long and Thanks for all the Shoes (crap title, I know), they stumbled a bit with the patchy Pump Up the Valuum (sic, 2000). In 2003, they had the good War on Errorism, which I deemed an improvement on the last one before proceeding to not listen to it again. Anyway, they weren’t setting the world on fire, I’m pretty sure Bowling For Soup were knocking about at that stage, and it was all looking a bit glum in the Cali-sounding punk stakes. Why this stab at context? No idea really. It was nice that the Wildies were apparently attempting to invigorate the scene, but the dropping of the metal from their sound just hurt them, and made them sound a bit bland overall, certainly compared to what fans of the band had grown used to. Maybe that was their secret plan for chart success, who knows?
So this wasn’t a bad album, but wasn’t great. In hindsight it was nice to have them back on account of (i) they are better than most other bands, and (ii) it eventually led, this year, to their eponymous album, which is fucking excellent. And it’s always nice to know that Ginger is staying (relatively) out of mischief. But yeah, my cynicism towards them, and the style in general, wasn’t particularly refuted when I eventually did get it listened this year. Then again, if I had got this at the time, I’d have likely attended what was sure to be a great gig during the period. What can you do?
Next up: I write about The Wildhearts again! A thousand words after all…