Album Review: The Wildhearts – “Renaissance Men”
It’s not often that a band who went through more drugs, drama and debauchery than most over the past three decades reform their most revered line-up and actually manage to record an album too, but here we are, a new Wildhearts LP is upon us 10 years after their last, and the band are all set to pick up where they left off. But where exactly was that? And who knows what they could or should sound like in 2019? It’s time to give the long-awaited Renaissance Men a spin.
The recent reissue of their legendary, self-titled ‘White Album’ has reminded us what a furiously inventive band The Wildhearts were, so Renaissance Men immediately becomes a record full of anticipation, and to be honest it delivers pretty quickly indeed. The first single (of sorts) released, Dislocated, is everything a Wildhearts fan could’ve wanted after such a hiatus, Ginger’s vocals veering from Mutation-gravel to his solo-style Geordie croon, while the band attack furiously. It’s a great opener, but the question remains, have the band put all their eggs in one basket on this six minute blast?
The answer is unquestionably ‘no’ as the Dropkick Murphys/Flogging Molly punk ethic in Let ‘Em Go proves. Long-standing Wildhearts fan Frank Turner must have been buzzing to finally get himself on one of the band’s records, having performed at so many of Ginger’s birthday shows, and here he does a sterling job on a song that wouldn’t be out of place in one of his own sets. The lyrical theme of catharsis snakes through much of Renaissance Men and here it’s thrown out with such joyous bluster that it’s impossible not to sing along, whether you’re alone or out in public.
There’s a bit of a surprise next with the album’s title track, a song so jaunty you can imagine a group of primary colour t-shirted children’s TV presenters gambolling around to it for some saccharine teeth and gums dance routine. The sentiment is certainly still there, and as ever it’ll eke itself into your psyche with its melody, but it does seem a little at odds with the rest of the album after a few listens.
It’s back to business with Fine Art Of Deception though, a three-minute blast of heartbreak wrapped in the instantly lovable riffs you’ve grown up with, and it’s followed swiftly by the band’s anthem for 2019, Diagnosis. Owing much musically to the Quo, lyrically it’s a bile-filled rant at conformity, the sort of outlet Ginger’s been looking for to summarise his own struggles with support systems in the UK for quite some time. And with CJ, Danny and Ritch behind him, his message is given more clout than ever.
Similarly on My Kind Of Movie, Ginger sets about listing a horrifying mix of genres, styles and creators that should form the most disgustingly vile scene known to man (“Cronenberg meets Ingmar Bergman with Takashi Miike on the side”) but in truth it’s not only auto-biographical, it’s the reason we’ve loved the band all these years; despite the ugliness, the bitterness, the self-destruction and downright unlistenable nature of some of their output (yes Endless Nameless, I am still a tad bitter) we can’t help but find their music creative, unique and ultimately fun, and this song is certainly all of that.
Of course in the intervening years The Wildhearts have re-emerged in other bands of all shapes and sizes and Danny’s Main Grains are represented here on the gang vocal-led Little Flower while Emergency (Fentanyl Babylon) has a touch of Nexus Icon to it, with its relentlessness suggesting it’ll be a mosh pit favourite in the future. Closing things out, My Side Of The Bed is reminiscent of the style amalgams that Ginger pulled out so effortlessly with 555% and G*A*S*S* as everything from country to Cardiacs makes an appearance during its four minute run, while Pilo Erection is V-Day on crack as a swaggering rhythm and soaring chorus give the album a euphoric end musically, if not necessarily lyrically.
As comebacks go, Renaissance Men is a strong effort, harking back to early Wildhearts but with touches of their eponymous effort thrown in now and again, as well as nods to each member’s solo work; as such it’s a combination you probably weren’t expecting, both old school yet riffy and modern, less of the pantomimes and more of the landmines as each song squares up to you and lifts a defiant middle finger. This is well and truly The Wildhearts and it’s good to have them back.
Renaissance Men is certainly a Wildhearts album, and a very modern one at that, but there's enough in the way of back-catalogue homage to bring old and new fans together. The band pick up where they left off, continuing to show their knack for creating rampant riffs and handsome harmonies whilst tackling some important subject matter along the way.