25 years ago this week a band who were to become one of my favourites released their debut full length record (following a pair of EPs) onto a probably quite suspecting world given their well covered love/hate relationship with Kerrang! magazine.
Earth Vs The Wildhearts, while probably not an album that has maintained its presence in the mainstream is an undeniable cult classic, something seen in the fact that on its 25th anniversary (30th August 2018) the band announced a series of shows celebrating the milestone.
I wasn’t there first time around, not properly discovering The Wildhearts (on this album primarily made up of, Ginger, CJ, Danny and Stidi) until 2002 but I have vague memories of their performance of Caffeine Bomb on Top Of The Pops at the time, so I don’t have quite the same nostalgia for the album that some will, but none the less have a huge appreciation for it.
1993 was something of a shifting time in British music (and pop music at large) with the late 80s early 90s dance and ‘Madchester’ scene giving way to what would become Britpop while grunge was arguably at its commercial peak but soon to implode.
The Wildhearts landed right in the middle of this and added to it their own past in the British sleazy glam scene following associations with acts like Quireboys (for whom Ginger briefly played guitar) and Dogs D’Amour (whose drummer Bam was the first behind the kit when Ginger formed this band).
Sonically Earth Vs… combines a lot of this into its sound that is as gritty and dirty as you might like but with a greasy sheen shining through.
So metal riffs and pop hooks smash into rock ’n’ roll swagger and a Beatles-esque sense of vocal harmonies, run through a punk rock filter, to create what I guess would become a touchstone of what got clumsily labelled Britrock further down the line.
From the start its clear we aren’t in a fantasy as Ginger’s choice use of expletives (probably one of the reasons they never quite hit the mainstream like some contemporaries) welcomes us to ‘Shitsville London’, painting a picture of the world of Britain’s answer to Generation X with a down to earth kind of bedsit angst that continues with TV Tan’s talk of ’20 Regal a four pack, I guess I’m set for the night’.
The themes generally remain equally as scuzzy as the sound as the album goes on with the likes of Loveshit and My Baby Is A Headfuck reflecting personal relationships in typically head on fashion and Caffeine Bomb (admittedly only available of the re-issue of the album with Ritch Battersby on drums, but that’s the version I’ve alway had and is more widespread) dealing with a particularly vicious hangover.
In this you can see the dirt under the records metaphorical fingernails while Ginger’s lyrics produce a uniquely British, and arguably uniquely Geordie, turn of phrase and self-deprecating sensibility that is rarely found elsewhere in music from Britain or elsewhere.
I can’t imagine the cockily swaggering Oasis or more whimsical Blur, who would become the pinnacle of British guitar pop in the mid-90s, quite coming up with stuff as real feeling as this.
The link to classic British glam was originally meant to be more overstated with Mick Ronson lined up to produce, unfortunately by the time it came to make the record he was too ill to do that but did play a lead solo on Headfuck giving the album, and the band, a nice through line from Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars.
While possibly not The Wildhearts’ most technically revered record or, for the fans, most exploratory, with P.H.U.Q. and Fishing For Luckies often taking those places respectively, for me its hard to escape the vigour and power of Earth Vs… before the band became mired in personnel changes and on-again-off-again relationships with record companies that, along with a terrific ability at personal self-destruction, meant the band have remained relegated to the sidelines.
The fact that (almost) the original line up that appeared here have been able to reconvene in recent years to celebrate their earlier work is nothing short of a miracle, but if it wasn’t for the power contained in recordings like this there wouldn’t be any point.
I’m not sure how well Earth Vs… would translate to a new, internet age, audience now, but even in 2002 when I first heard it it contained something elemental that hooked me in and has made me a fan ever since.
Long live The Wildhearts, whatever the rest of the Earth may think of them.
And here’s that TOTP performance, seemingly from about 10th generation VHS and with an intro from Simon Mayo…