24 May 2007

The Wildhearts – Earth vs. The Wildhearts (1993)


I always thought this came out in 1994, but that must apparently have been the reissue. The Wildies’ debut is inarguably the most esteemed of their records by the rock media and the readers of the rock media, as evinced here (below The Darkness? Don’t make me laugh. Or cry) and hyurr. I’m not so sure, to be honest. Actually, I am sure that it isn’t their best album, but what can you do. This is the same rock press that thought P.H.U.Q. was some kind of massive disappointment, something I get even less.

Anyway, this album is pretty damn good, even if it’s not their best, and the reissue with ‘Caffeine Bomb’ is by definition superior. If nothing else, though, it is a fascinating document of where ‘Britrock’ stood before the explosion of Britpop sent our rock landscape back about twenty years. See, while grunge was still massive in America (Soundgarden between Badmotorfinger and Superunknown, Pearl Jam on their second album, Cobain still alive), Britain was in a strange limbo in terms of rock music.

I don’t want to sound too much like John Harris here, primarily because I hate his writing (and his stupid hair), but dance music was all the rage over here (and that’s great, because it was Ardkore.mania, and that’s my favourite kind of dance), and rock was living in this post-eighties (so that means Def Leppard, Little Angels and Thunder selling well) no-mans land where new stuff wasn’t really happening. Even indie seemed to be eating its own tail, as the shadow cast on its cardigan wearing world by the magnificent My Bloody Valentine had plunged it all into an eternal night of the living wannabes. So something had to be done.

Fortunately, the above situation meant the next generation of rock (and I mean the legitimate next generation, not the Oasis/Cast/Shed Seven lot, because retro pub rock can’t fairly be described as the ‘next’ anything) was going to be an interesting melting pot of different eras and aesthetics of rock. While I am probably going to devote a bit of time to the likes of Therapy? or maybe even Manic Street Preachers in the future, I reckon the Wildies were the most interesting band of the time anyway.

See, they formed in 1989, and you can tell there is a very glammy side to them. While their MySpace mentions Kix as an influence, and they went on to cover a Dogs D’Amour song, the band was more influenced by the punkier side of things, in Guns N’ Roses. In fact, they were – and still are – influenced by punk rock itself in a major way. And, because the best thing involving guitars in the UK at this time was metal, they were also essentially a metal band, influenced by Metallica and sharing stages with Pantera in the early days. So, while their sound wasn’t that refined on this record, the ideas were there, it was a new sound and, most importantly, it’s a cracking set of songs.

‘Greetings from Shitsville’ is about as good an opening gambit as you could hope for. Introduced by a bouncy metal riff whose head stays bobbing on the surface for the duration of the song, there is a really anthemic chorus and punk energy all the way through. Ginger apparently never thought he was a particularly good singer, but I can’t imagine anyone else singing these songs, as he has a great melodic delivery that’s tempered by a growly hoarseness that really fits the riffs.

‘TV’ Tan might be the best song on here, and if it’s not, then it’s just a complete gem of a rock song anyway. More punky and energetic than the first song, the metal is toned down in favour of the pop, as the lyric describes the life of a slacker. The football chant chorus is awesome (3 Colours red would later seem to base their short-lived career on this), as is the breakdown/build-up sequence. I want to live in the parallel universe where this has the public awareness of a ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’.

The pseudo-ballad intro of ‘Everlone’ gives way to a riff that reminds me of Poison’s ‘Let it Play’ which, coming from me, is a big old compliment. As listeners to The Wildhearts would get used to, the chorus is massive. I can’t believe I didn’t recognise this when I saw them; gutted. It’s not quite as good as the later Foo Fighters song of similar title but, as that’s in the running for best-four-minute-rock-song-ever, that’s no big diss. An acoustic breakdown to end the song gives listeners an indication as to the bands musical future, especially as it proggily takes a left turn into a completely new riff. Okay, it’s not that proggy, but it’s hardly what was expected of pop-rock bands of the time.

‘Shame on Me’ and ‘Loveshit’ are more of what we have become accustomed to from this album, between which owners of the reissue get ‘hit’ single ‘Caffeine Bomb’, whose success led to the reissue in the first place. Think of it as their ‘Paranoid’ (which Sabbath apparently weren’t going to include on the album. It was going to be called War Pigs, smart guy), just five times faster. Like I said in the gig review, this has to be the fastest thing they ever did, from start to finish, and it is also the song responsible for bringing the band to my fourteen-year-old attention. I don’t know if this is a testament to the song or indictment of current chart music (probably a bit of both) but, if the Kaiser Chiefs or even Arctic Monkeys released this under a different name, everybody would go crazy.

I’m scared of stepping off a cliff into a sea of inescapable hyperbole at this point. I’m scared ‘Miles Away Girl’ will send me plunging to uncritical depths, so just blooming listen to it.

Glowing evidence of just how stacked this album is comes with the second-side one-two punch of ‘My Baby is a Headfuck’ and ‘Suckerpunch’, songs so fast and furious that I wouldn’t be surprised if they kicked off the album as a whole.

The latter is especially good, as I went for years between first and next listen, and the line ‘she got me with a- sucker! Sucker! Oh you fucker’ stayed with me for the duration. Melody is largely dropped in favour of a jerky, aggressive rhythm for most of the song, but after the aforementioned and infamous line, we get the bouncy riff to end all bouncy riffs (at least until Strapping Young Lad’s ‘Detox’ a few years later), a riff to which I went bananas when I saw them. That’s not to say the former doesn’t have its own moments, as it transforms for a few seconds into ‘Day Tripper’ before the real song comes back in with ‘ba-ba-ooh’ backing vocals. The guitar solo (performed by no less a legend than Mick Ronson) and piano plonking are the icing on a completely insane cake.

Obviously the last three songs fail to maintain this standard, but they are endearing enough blasts of pop rock to round out the album. If I seem overly enthusiastic about the album, it’s because I have been focusing on the best songs. Just over half of this album is absolute gold, and the remaining five or six songs are pretty good. So while it’s not the classic that others would have you believe it’s a fine start that also blows away the competition. Seriously, this was two years before the first Supergrass album…

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