26 July 2007

The Wildhearts - Fishing for Luckies


Round Records, 1996

Pretty much every circumstance surrounding this album suggests that it shouldn’t be much cop: released on the bands own Round Records label in late 1996 after they acrimoniously split from East/West, I bought it as a cut out for a fiver back when Way Ahead was still a music shop. It’s technically not a proper album; the sleeve-notes suggest listeners take it more as bric-a-brac of various songs written in various years and then collated. Instead, it’s the best thing they ever did, probably will ever do, and I would rate it above all but one or two British rock albums of the nineties.

Funnily enough it is that almost random feel to the collection that really appeals. I would say the pressure was off for this one but, as most of it was written at the same time as P.H.U.Q., that’s not strictly true. Nevertheless, this album represents a melting pot of ideas, both the most minimal and epic the band ever had. Some of the ideas work better than others, but it is rarely less than utterly compelling.

Further, this is also the album that opened my eyes to what an amazing musical mind Ginger was, and is still. Before I deal with the music, though, it’s best to clarify which version of the album I have, and am reviewing. It is not the original six song version that was released to fan club members. It’s not Fishing for More Luckies that their stupid record label sneaked out after P.H.U.Q. was such a surprising success: that version had nine songs.

My version was released in late 1996 on the aforementioned Round Records label. It differs from the original in quite a big way, actually. The four epic songs (between seven and eleven minutes in length) that form the heart of the album remain, with all other tracks completely changed, to a total of ten. Coincidentally, the inclusion of so many short, noisy songs to contrast with the epics is similar to Mike Patton’s contribution to the next years Faith No More album, in that he added a bunch of two minute noisy songs to what he thought was otherwise a bit of a grand rock album. More on that when I do my planned 1997 countdown anyway.

So, on this album, the originals are ‘Inglorious’, ‘Schitzophonic’, ‘Do the Channel Bop’ and ‘Sky Babies’. Added are hit singles ‘Sick of Drugs’ and ‘Red Light, Green Light’, as well as the thrashy punk rock songs ‘Soul Searching on Planet Earth’, ‘In Like Flynn’ and ‘Moodswings and Roundabouts’. The album culminates with the brief, lullaby-like, ‘Nite Songs’ followed by half an hour of a looped few seconds of laughter. I think I listened to the latter once all the way through. In fact, that is similar to the half-hour loop Brutal Truth attached to their grindcore classic Sounds of the Animal Kingdom, again the next year.

As I mentioned in the P.H.U.Q. review, the older songs on here were intended by the band to be part of a double CD release in 1995. Perhaps it was fortunate this was not the case. For a start, it means I get two great albums, but the inclusion of these insane epics would have aggravated what I see as an almost subconscious (Freudian) streak in Ginger to alienate the masses. On one hand he offers catchiness and anthems galore, and on the other he mixes in the kinds of noises and song fragments that would alienate the Oasis/Blur fan of the time. As we’ll see when I get to Endless, Nameless, this issue was to be infinitely emphasised the next year.

So the real meat of this album comes in the form of the four epics, cornerstones that are permanent through every issue of this title. Opener ‘Inglorious’ sets the tone for what will form the majority of the album (this quartet of songs account for over thirty-five minutes of the albums fifty-one minutes). I bought this about a month after I got Neurosis’s Through Silver in Blood and was quite taken aback by the similarities. When I stuck this disc in the CD player, the full CD length for ten songs struck me as odd from what was apparently a ‘Britrock’ band (think Skunk Anansie, Feeder, early Terrorvision et al). It transpired that twenty minutes or so was the then-usual ‘let’s fill the disc’ japery, but the songs that were long were true sonic adventures.

In fact I don’t limit the parallel to Neurosis either. 1996 was pretty cool for bands stretching their creative legs and seeing what could be done: the year was notable for career best records from not just Neurosis, but also Tool and Type O Negative, as well as epics from Swans, Burzum and Godflesh. There must have been something in the water that year. Anyway, ‘Inglorious’, while long, ushers listeners into the record in an un-frightening enough manner. In what is definitely a departure for the band, they decide to write the song as an epic thrash piece, from the quasi-classical, clean picked intro, to the staccato build, to the eventual shred-fest to close. All that’s missing is the extended soloing one might expect from such a song, but this – as well as the performance itself – is where the fact The Wildhearts is a punk rock band has influence.

And it’s brilliant, as the tempo builds and builds over the course of the song. The one point where the speed drops – when it has already reached breaking point – is one of those momentary breathers, effectively dropping you into the freefall of a cliff jump, where all concerned collect their thoughts before catching you and hurling you back into the maelstrom of riffage (with even an eight bar tribute to the excellent ‘Mouth for War’ by Pantera). To say it is energising would be an understatement, as it’s a pretty wild seven minutes.

The next semi-epic, still only seven-ish minutes, is the far sweeter ‘Schitzophonic’*, which ploughs an altogether far more pop-orientated furrow: the common-tone modulation in the first verse sounds in 2007 as almost a precursor to the excellent chorus of Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’. Like ‘Inglorious’, this is an epic take on a traditional rock form – in this case power pop. While it is inordinately well-composed, and does enter into epic sounds as the song enters an aural ‘arena’ (sadly lacking overdub crowd noise) the guitars slowing to emphasise the epic stature of what’s going on, the title echoing while the riffs curlicue up again like swirls of smoke, the band is still on the launching pad; still on Earth.

The ambition grows with ‘Do the Channel Bop’, which is almost too absurdly good to be true. It begins, weirdly enough, with a portion of singing that actually sounds like a really good Liam Gallagher impression. At the time I chalked it up to bitter satire, but on further thought I realised it was originally released in early 1994 – before Definitely Maybe was even out. Maybe it was just a coincidence, then, but the similarity is eerie.

The track stops being the best Oasis song ever a couple of minutes in: at this stage, the boys from Manchester would just repeat things a bit and then leave the studio in order to ‘ave it. The South Shields boys, on the other hand, sent their song into orbit. And this isn’t even the song about space. One little touch I like, which really emphasises the sense of size on this record, is the chorus that sounds like the whole world’s singing on it, or at least a bunch of kids. The massed vocals motif continues when the song takes its aforementioned leap into zero gravity when wordless singing punctuates slo-mo synth jumps up the register that crescendo with switches to staccato guitar.

Despite the excellence on show earlier in the album, it is only on ‘Sky Babies’ where the listener becomes privy to the enormity of Ginger’s talent – and boldness. The track again starts life as a regular, albeit really good, rock song (though the intro, with various voices talking in as many languages, hints at greater ambition), and goes through the stage-after-stage format of the lengthy preceding songs.

However, after the rate of changes that would fit Metallica’s …And Justice for All set, including a thrilling, Coalesce-esque, segment of tech-riffing, Ginger sees fit to launch the song into the stratosphere, as it goes quite Floydy. The rhythm guitars are jettisoned from the mix like a brace of solid rocket boosters, as a slow, spacey, lead guitar line is accompanied by throbbing synths. The track alternated between such floaty concern and more earthy melody, as Ginger’s verbal rumination switches from a dreamy self awareness:

Back on my planet you cannot tell lies
'Cos everyone can see it by the look in your eye
Parties all last for a couple of days
No one sleeps 'cos beds are prohibited

…through sci-fi fantasy:

…Look into those eyes, it comes as no surprise
‘It's little more than science fiction’, the government replies
They could be taking our daughters, they could be taking our ladies
Making sky babies

…before a scintillating syncopated staccato** segment in which guitar pick strokes and vocal syllables/joint tokes synchronise as paranoia hits full flow:

This is it in layman's terms, phenomenon of UFOs
Is well acknowledged by the state but secret to the president
Employed to be a public face and keep the public feeling safe
But higher powers in government hide something a million times
The size of the killing of JFK, the CIA are aware that higher
Powers exist with untold knowledge of life and death dimension
It could alter public awareness of religion, which is the only faith
That keeps us all in true control, and that's why we can never know

With that off his chest, Ginger heads back on foot to Hookville, playing us out with the minutes-long sequence of adventurous desire that alternates each new line with the mantra of a ‘take me with you when you go’ refrain. I’m partly gutted that the song fades after all that, but am also fully aware that if it didn’t, each new segment would be followed by another. It’s a truly awesome piece of work.

The more traditional Wildies fare comes in the form of hit single tag team ‘Sick of Drugs’ and ‘Red Light-Green Light’, while punky speedcore is the name of the game for the invigorating, breakneck ‘Moodswings and Roundabouts’ and ‘Soul Searching On The Planet Earth (Different Kind Of Love)’ (longest title for the shortest track).

‘In Like Flynn’ alternates between punk rock angst and jaded cynico-grind: ‘back in '89, they said "You'll be fine / Just suck a little dick…” Why the hell did they wanna sign me? / I'm a liability / Goodbye East-West, God bless…’ It’s a generally aggressive coke high of boasts and firing shots off at their old label - ‘In our souls (arseholes) we trusted’. The album is rounded out by the aforementioned lullaby of ‘Nite Songs’ and, the more I think on it, the more convinced I am that it is the finest British rock album of the last decade and a half. If you’re a rock fan who hasn’t heard this, you owe it to yourself to get that remedied.


* I am aware the prefix ‘schizo-’ usually omits the ‘t’ found here. I am equally aware, though, that ‘schizophonic’ isn’t actually a word, and is therefore not misspelled.

** Oxymoron?

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