Album review: Renaissance Men – The Wildhearts

Being a fan of The Wildhearts has always felt a bit like being a member of a secret society, where you feel privileged to be a devoted fan of one of the very best bands on the planet that almost nobody else has heard of.

On the other hand, being a fan of the Wildhearts has also felt a bit like being the owner of a dreadfully unreliable car. On good days it’s the best car in the world; it handles like a dream, goes like stink, looks awesome and makes a noise that can make grown men go weak at the knees, but there have been periods where it just wouldn’t start and longer periods where you were almost certain that the wheels had come off it and it seemed destined for the scrap-heap. Take, for example, the period between the last album ‘Chutzpah!’ and now, which accounts for a whole DECADE of no new material – a painfully long time for fans of the band to wait, hoping that there was still life in the old girl yet.

Rather thankfully, anyone that’s a fan of the Wildhearts is no doubt abundantly aware of the fact that Ginger Wildheart is probably the most hard-working, creative and prolific artist in Britain and has released a massive glut of material over the last decade since then, such as his record-and-site-breaking PledgeMusic campaign that led to the 30+ track monster that is ‘555%’ and its pared-down commercial ‘100%’ release, two excellent ‘Hey! Hello!’ albums, three gloriously noisy ‘Mutation’ albums, the huge ‘GASS’ project, his beautiful ‘Ghost in the Tanglewood’ solo album and several other projects, which have kept the engine ticking over nicely alongside the three (absolutely brilliant) solo albums from CJ Wildheart, as well as the output from Danny’s own band The Main Grains, which certainly all helped to make the absence of the ‘hearts more bearable.

It was with not with a small amount of excitement then, that the events of the past few months saw the mighty engine of the Wildhearts fire up and come thundering back to life after it was announced that a new album was in the works and that one of its constituent and long-missed components had been reinstalled (albeit missing a part of one of his legs) in the form of Danny McCormack, meaning that the band was back to what could arguably be called its classic lineup of Ginger, CJ, Ritch Battersby and Danny, which was very exciting news indeed for a long-term fan such as myself.

Two days ago, the new album ‘Renaissance Men’ landed and I’ve been playing it pretty much constantly since, and… Well… Here’s a bit of an understated spoiler: it’s rather good.

It all kicks off with the track ‘DISLOCATED’ and I don’t think I’ve heard an album opener of this quality in quite some time. If ever there was a track that served well as a portent of things to come it’s this one, as it’s comes at you with such a generous fistful of punky aggression that it seems like it wants to pick a fight with you, wreck your house and piss on your bed. It comes belting off the starting line with all cylinders firing with a MASSIVE buzzcut riff and when Ritch starts pounding his kit it becomes clear that this track is going to be an instant pit-filler wherever it’s played. I doubt the credentials of any rock music fan that’s not even gently moshing within seconds of this track starting, so deliciously infectious is its riffage and intensity.

Like an arch-demon heralding the beginning of the apocalypse, Ginger seemingly manifests and channels the spirit of the late, great Lemmy of Motorhead with the opening line of “and all the while the enemy was just around the corner” in a gutteral howl the likes of which we’ve never heard from him and the floodgates of chaos are flung open with carefree abandon. In true Wildhearts fashion however, it’s not long before the song does a complete one-eighty and switches to a slower, wonderfully melodic and tender-sounding section which is driven by Danny’s bass and Ritch’s drums. This is a short-lived breather of course because, quite naturally, it’s not long before those floodgates are flung open again and the track returns to the frantic intensity that it began with. This doesn’t relent at all until it closes with a righteous, air-punching frenzy of riffing. Flippin’ hell, what a blinder to start with, and after a ten year drought of Wildhearts songs, I think it’s fair to say that this track feels like a gift from the great gods of Rock and Metal and provides a much-needed adrenaline shot right to the heart. Oh, yes my friends – the Wildhearts are back and they mean business.

Never a band to be pigeonholed, you can always expect the unexpected from the Wildhearts, so it’s not unexpected when the intensity of the first track makes way for something completely different (but not a man with three buttocks) in the form of the second track, LET ‘EM GO.

Much like the first track, this one also sports a punkier edge to its sound which means that it wouldn’t sound remotely out of place alongside anything from the likes of UK punk stalwarts such as Vice Squad or UK Subs – which is surely a good thing. Yep, it’s a rollicking good track, capable of smacking a grin on the mug of even the most hardened punk, with its rowdy refrain of “Let ’em go / Let ’em go / Let the shit-filled river flow / While your belly burns in anger / No one ever needs to know” and once again in true Wildhearts fashion it switches direction several times to masterful effect without ever sounding awkward or gimmicky.

This song features a guest appearance by none other than Frank Turner (formerly of Million Dead and a good friend of Ginger) who gets his very own solo bit in the middle of the song, which was a lovely surprise. Out of all of the songs on the album, this is probably the most instantly accessible one as it’s easy to learn the lyrics to and is without doubt a future crowd-pleasing sing-along at gigs.

The album’s one and only song which strays into the lighter sound that ‘Chutzpah!’ dipped in and out of is the delectable RENAISSANCE MEN, which features that genius blend of pop-rock sensibility that Ginger seems to be capable of writing in his sleep and, for a long-term Wildhearts fan, is a song that excitingly sounds like a statement of intent from the band. I have to digress that, what with me being a big girl’s blouse and all, the lines “Some thought that we were through / Some prayed that we were too / But you need us around / You can’t keep a good band down” made me wail with joy at the prospect of that long, long drought of new material being turned into a veritable gushing river. It’s a big ol’ feel-good foot-stomper of a track and no doubt about it. Ariba, indeed!

The track that follows on from that one, FINE ART OF DECEPTION, sounds much more like a classic Wildhearts song and surprisingly seems like it wouldn’t be out of place on the white album. As you might expect in that case, it’s bursting at the seams with catchy hooks and has a glorious chorus which will have the crowd shouting ‘BULLSHIT’ in response to Ginger’s lines.

One of the best things about this song is the immense guitar solo in the middle of it, which is possibly my favourite Wildhearts one since ‘My baby is a Headfuck’ as it just drips with the pure, unbridled DNA of rock’n’roll and never fails to plaster a great big grin on my mug when I’m listening to it.

At this point in the album, you’ll probably find yourself nicely limbered up and ready for the rest of it, which is a good thing because DIAGNOSIS, the next track, is about to come and knock you on your arse. The intro of it features one of the best build-ups I’ve ever heard before it explodes into the sort of swaggering, strutting ballsy rock’n’roll that would hypothetically result from a dream collaboration between AC/DC, Status Quo and Motorhead. It sounds absolutely MASSIVE and elevates the Wildhearts to a higher plane on the rock pantheon. One can’t help but wonder and muse over how things might have been if they had managed to maintain the momentum generated by ‘Earth Vs’ and ‘P.H.U.Q’ in the nineties and had become as big as they deserve to be. I can imagine a whole stadium packed full of fans singing along to this.

The subject matter of the song actually centres around Ginger’s long-documented battle with depression and the generally shoddy state of mental health services in the UK, so the attitude and anger pouring forth from it is raw, genuine and heartfelt. Under the guidance of lesser hands it would probably have turned out to be just another angry, shouty song, but it is with typical aplomb (and in some ways similar to what he did this on ‘Ghost in the Tanglewood’) that Ginger and the lads manage to weave the anger into a force of positivity, with the chants on this track being “You’re not an animal / I’m not an animal / I am a human being” and the whole thing turning into a air-punching, feel-good, ‘us and them’ anthem. For me, this is the stand-out track on the album (which is a difficult thing to say since they’re all barnstormers) as it’s so utterly anthemic and epic – I can’t wait to hear it played live.

Once Diagnosis is out of the way, there’s a chance that you might be expecting a slower, less anthemic track next? Haha! Nope, dream on, sucker – this is the Wildhearts, so what you actually get is MY KIND OF MOVIE, which is exactly the opposite as it marks a return of the shit-kicking, punky, angry sound that the album kicked off with. It comes screaming out of the trap with a big dirty riff, grabs you by the scruff of yer neck and drags you unwittingly through the sort of horror-tinged world Ginger previously described almost 30 years ago in Splattermania and doesn’t let go until the very end, which will leave you breathless, grinning and begging for more.

You’ll be thankful then that you get a bit of a breather in the next track MY LITTLE FLOWER, which turns the pace down a few notches. Penned and sung by CJ rather than Ginger, it’s a big, cheery love song which still sounds like it would kick your head in if you spilled its pint.

I absolutely love CJ’s solo stuff and this track has undoubtedly got his fingerprints all over it. You’ll probably laugh when I say that I sometimes think that some of CJ’s stuff sounds a bit like ‘Angry Weezer’ (we’re taking blue album-era Weezer). It’s a description which actually fits this song nicely too and is indeed a compliment!

Next up, EMERGENCY (FENTANYL BABYLON) comes clattering into the room sporting a great big honking mohawk and jack boots, then proceeds to headbutt you in the ears with its rowdy racket. It’s yet another track which makes me believe that what we’re witnessing with this album is a rebirth of sorts for the Wildhearts as they sound almost like a different band to how they sounded on the last album ‘Chutzpah!’.

The clean sounding pop-rock anthems have made way for big, scuzzy punk ones and there’s never any doubt that the ever-strong undercurrent of hooks and melodies that we love the Wildhearts for aren’t present and accounted for on this new one, meaning that while it feels familiar, it also feels big and bouncy and new. Lovely jubbly!

Starting up with the sort of burgeoning, discordant noise that’s reminiscent of some of the tracks on Ginger’s ‘Mutation’ project albums, MY SIDE OF THE BED quickly settles into something that sounds equal part scuzzy punk and Vanilla Radio-era ‘hearts, with Ginger singing in a happy melody about his dismay over the UK since its post-Brexit transformation into a hotbed of racism and ring-wing arseholes, with a glorious ‘uh-huh’ bridge and a quieter melodic breakdown it’s a truly brilliant track which once again features a solid-gold guitar solo and will leave you absolutely grinning from ear to ear as it’s got all the hallmarks of yet another classic Wildhearts track. Uh-huh.

If you’re thinking at this point that this latest Wildhearts album has been somewhat bereft of the sky-high harmonies and sing-alongs of their earlier albums, never fear because PILO ERECTION is here to poke it’s boaby into your ears and make you sing along at the top of your lungs while at the same time make you stomp your foot so hard there’s a danger that it might shortly be transformed into a bloody stump. Yes indeed – this song features a beautiful chorus of such an unbelievably epic proportion that Galactus himself would either hear it and tremble with fear or just grin massively and join in with its glorious racket.

Of course, being a Wildhearts song, there’s more to it than just than just that glorious sing-along bit; there’s two other parts; the verse bit which I think sounds very T-Rex-ish (which is definitely no bad thing) and the other part, which is a gloriously raucous football-stand chant of “Pilo eee-rect (rect, rect, rect, rect, rect, rect), eee-rect” (which is not rude, btw – it’s the medical term for goosebumps) that will have you punching the air and grinning vacantly like a slack-jawed fool. Or maybe that’s just me.

The end of the song descends into a chaotic, distorted beast of a riff, setting the last few seconds of the album off with a bang. Beautiful!

So there we have it. The spectacular return of (and yes, I am somewhat biased) Britain’s best rock bandâ„¢ is upon us, so it’s time to wear those Smileybones t-shirts and hoodies with pride and spread the word far and wide, because it feels like they’re back for good this time.

Rather luckily, my better half and I experienced them playing some of the new tracks last weekend in Edinburgh’s Liquid Room in possibly one of the best gigs we’ve ever seen.

The Wildhearts have always been a tight live band, but there was something different in the air about them this time that I couldn’t put my finger on – perhaps it’s due to the return of Danny being back in the band or the fact that they’re in a much better place now, but it’s hugely exciting to see that not only are they back and making new music, they seem completely reinvigorated as a band.

Back to Renaissance Men, I think it’s fair to say that it will feature high on my top ten albums list of 2019.

…Er, actually, who am I kidding? It’s going to be at the VERY TOP of it, of course! It’s a glorious, life-affirming, noisy beast of an album with big, pendulous swinging balls and a phlegmy gobful of punky attitude. It’s the perfect antidote to the calamitous bullshit that is Brexit and Tory rule as it’s spunky, riotous and effervescent energy can’t help but brighten your day and remind you that not everything in the world at the moment is rubbish. It also marks a very important point in the history of music, as it flips the world a double-middle-finger salute and announces clearly and without any doubt that the Wildhearts are back.

And by golly it’s good to have them back.