It’s funny when you form an opinion in your head about something and, when it comes to the point when you decide to express it, it becomes clear that you’re very much in the minority.
This happened recently in the ‘All things WILDHEARTS’ Facebook group because, after a good few listens, I suggested publicly that I thought that their new album ‘Renaissance Men’ might have (finally) beat their seminal debut LP ‘Earth vs The Wildhearts’, and while a certain amount of the members agreed with me, a surprising portion of them reacted with disdain, surprise and even a little revulsion.
Expressing an opinion such as this is, of course, an entirely subjective matter to anyone not inside the kooky confines of my head, so I just thought that it might be fun to try and drill down into my thoughts on why I would dare to come up with such a seemingly controversial opinion. Before I get started however, I should state for the record and make it clear that while I absolutely love all of the band’s output (even that one record of theirs that not everyone loves), I’ve never been so audacious before to even come close to suggesting that any of their subsequent releases have even came close to besting ‘Earth vs’ as it has always – and will possibly forever more – remain at the very top of my internal ‘best albums of all-time’ list.
I can totally understand why there’s a general feeling that I’m spectacularly jumping the gun by coming out with this opinion in relation to the new album, though. It has, after all, been out for around three weeks at the time of writing this in comparison to ‘Earth Vs’, which was released waaay back in August 1993, so why oh why would I dare to suggest that the new one equals or even betters the classic one? Read on!
Reason #1 – The worms… Those filthy little earworms
I guess the biggest factor for me as to why the new album comes magically close to equalling or bettering ‘Earth Vs’ is quite naturally down to the sheer quality of the songs on it. The Wildhearts have always been a band to rely on when it comes down to writing melodies and lyrics that have a particular talent for worming themselves through yer lugs and into your brain, and while there are plenty of songs on ‘P.H.U.Q’, ‘Fishing for Luckies’, ‘Endless Nameless’, ‘The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed’, ‘The Wildhearts’ and ‘Chutzpah!’ that have this ear-worming ability, I personally find that it’s the ones of ‘Earth Vs’ that still come back to haunt my cranium the most and it’s not unusual when I find myself vacantly singing ‘Greetings from Shitsville’ or ‘The Miles Away Girl’ from time to time rather than the songs on any of the other albums. When it comes to the songs on ‘Renaissance Men’ however, it’s like Ginger and the lads have been channelling the spirit of that debut album as the earworms on it are every bit as strong. Take, for example, one of the leading tracks on the album called ‘Let ’em go’, which immediately launches into a melody which will get lodged into your head for days and has a huge sing-along chorus that, once you know the lyrics to it, will plague your noggin for the weeks and years to come. It’s an instant Wildhearts classic and no doubt about it.
That’s not the only track on the album that’s got those ear-wormish qualities, though. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that, much like like those found on ‘Earth Vs’, every single track on ‘Renaissance Men’ is armed with at least one big, barbed hook that will ensnare you and let those naughty little worms crawl through your ears. As much as I love ‘Chutzpah!’ and the other albums prior to it, it’s the immediacy and sheer quality of songwriting on the new album that elevates it to the lofty position of being contention of being the best album by the band, in my humble opinion. And let’s face it, that’s probably what they want to hear, right?
Reason #2 – It’s all about the attitude
There’s no denying it – the world has changed an awful lot since ‘Earth Vs The Wildhearts’ was released back in 1993. Technology has leap-frogged several times to the point where we now carry devices around with us that are massively more powerful than the desktop computers were back then and feature cameras that are massively superior than any of the digital cameras at the time. Not only that, they allow us to connect to the internet; something that was barely existent in any public form back then – which possibly gives some insight into how vastly things have changed. There’s also the fact that the political landscape has changed an awful lot since 1993 too. The UK was still limping away from the recovery of the Thatcher years and was still under Tory rule, but was more or less on an even keel. With that in mind, anything that seemed wildly controversial and problematic when politics was concerned in 1993 pales significantly when you measure it against the things that are happening across the world in 2019. Oh, yes – I’m talking about the absolute clusterfuck that is Brexit, the presidency of the twitter-posting, arrogant and tangerine buffoon that is Donald Trump and the general rise of the right-wing worldwide which has empowered racist and sexist scumbags around the globe to the point where they’re now comfortable with expressing their toxic opinions in public.
These are things that get us all angry and evidently, as the music would attest, it’s something that has fuelled the Wildhearts in the creation of ‘Renaissance Men’, which bristles with a fresh-feeling punkish attitude – and it’s this attitude that elevates the album into being one of their best because the themes on it – which include online
online bullying (‘Dislocated’), the failings of the UK mental health system (‘Diagnosis’) and casual racism (‘My side of the bed’), amongst others – resonate with many of us on a personal level. Granted, the band previously skimmed around the fringes of political themes in some of their earlier albums, but not with the same level of conviction and passion as is evident on ‘Renaissance Men’, as the anger, frustration and fury pours out of this album like none other, which makes it a compelling listen.
Reason #3 – Repeat Plays
Since I suspect the majority of the readers of this post will most likely be fellow Wildhearts fans, I’d take a guess that most of them have the majority of the band’s back-catalogue and have got all of their albums on a high rotation in their listening habits. I know that’s certainly always the case with me (alongside Ginger’s solo output and other bits and bobs), but I’m also acutely aware that I’m one of those people who can find themselves getting a bit worn-out if I keep playing an album on constant repeat. Another reason I believe the new album is on a par with ‘Earth Vs’ is down to the fact that I’ve had it on constant repeat for nearly three weeks now and its ability to smack a great big grin on my mug and make me sing along with the songs (or at least the ones I’ve learned the lyrics to) hasn’t waned in the slightest.
Reason #4 – The live potential
I read something in an interview with Ginger in which he was talking about the way in which ‘Renaissance Men’ was recorded. Unlike most of the other albums, he said, the majority of the tracks on the new album were recorded almost like a live session rather than them individually laying down multiple guitar tracks, so what you hear on the record is what they sound like when they’re playing live. I wish I could track down the interview so I could link to it, but I can’t!
The point I am going make however, is that because the album is very raw and bare-bones when it comes to the way it was recorded, this is undoubtedly going to translate incredibly well when the songs on it are played at future gigs. For those of us who have been lucky enough to have caught them on tour over the past couple of weeks, the opening bombshells of ‘Dislocated’ and ‘Let em Go’ proved that and then some as they went down an absolute storm with the crowd, who were miraculously singing along to them despite the album only being released two days prior to the gig! I’m actually gutted they never played ‘Diagnosis’ at the Edinburgh gig, but hey ho – there will definitely be a next time and I’m going to cross all of my appendages in the hopes that they play it then along side any of the other equally juicy tracks from the album.
Reason #5 – The beginning of the Renaissance?
If there’s one thing that’s become clear since the release of the new album, it’s that the Wildhearts are still one of the best bands around. Okay, yes – I know I am somewhat biased when it comes to this opinion, but in all honesty I can’t think of an album that I’ve heard from any other band recently which can hold a candle to the new Wildhearts one, and the glut of glowing reviews from music magazines and websites around the world would tend to suggest that I’m not alone in this opinion.
As fans, we can only hope that this really lights a fire beneath the band and we see a Renaissance for them, which is surely another reason to feel excited about the new album as it could mark the beginning of something really special and we see this undisputed champion of underdogs finally be elevated to the status they so richly deserve.
Viva le Renaissance!