Ten years on from their last album, Chutzpah, The Wildhearts have been back in the studio and created Renaissance Men, an album that at once harks back to old glories while defiantly looking forward and presenting something fresh and new – not bad around three decades since they first formed.
Obviously I’m a big fan of the band, and I had enjoyed recent single, Dislocated, but without context there remained, hanging in the air, the general sense that expectation could easily out weigh the final product.
As Renaissance Men kicks off with Dislocated it immediately feels more in context just knowing it opens the record and it remains a bludgeoning force of a hard rock track before Let ‘Em Go brings in the kind of poppy hooks that could make it a love singalong favourite. The second track also features Frank Turner which adds a nice sonic diversion to Ginger and CJ’s well known vocal sound, but in a way that fits in with them very well.
The title track then really brings the classic Wildhearts sound back with crunchy guitars and bounce-along goodness but with a crucial something extra in the sound and production that makes it fresh.
From there it’s much the same throughout with the tracks cut as close to the bone as possible but still packing in a lot, be it singalong hooks, crunchy heaviness or just that mix of metal, punk and pop that has defined the best of the band over the year.
The predominantly shorter running times for the songs is reminiscent of The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed, but they are more inventive and generally successful than pretty much anything from that record (and I speak as a fan of that often overlooked collection).
Diagnosis feels like a mid-way reboot of the record as it combines hints of Status Quo and AC/DC with a heavier and thicker production, while the lyrical themes feel like they could have come from one of Ginger’s folk/country solo albums, but here dealt with in a far more hard rocking way.
Little Flower somehow brings a strange sweetness to proceedings before Emergency (Fentanyl Babylon) kicks the door in again, well before it had a chance to be properly put back on the hinges.
My Side Of The Bed almost takes us right back to the band’s roots with a strong streak of glam rock running through it before Pilo Erection closes the album off with a sound that throws back to P.H.U.Q. but with the new, thicker and heavier production style that marks the album as whole.
Renaissance Men does something that few comeback albums (if that’s the right phrase) do as it picks a few of the things that made the band’s reputation but adds in something new.
Of course there’s the aforementioned production of the album, but there’s also the fact that, having worked through a lot in his solo material, Ginger seems to have found the confidence to tackle bigger and broader issues here but without ever being heavy handed about it or sacrificing crafting some really catchy, rocking songs.
Not only that but this sees The Wildhearts back in their ‘classic’ line up with not just Ginger, CJ and Ritch Battersby but Danny McCormack back in the band meaning that, to many fans, this is the most complete Wildhearts line up since P.H.U.Q. and it’s hard to argue with the fact that it sounds like it too, thankfully meaning any sense of expectation has been well and truly overridden by an album that could easily enter the discussion as being the band’s third best (let’s be honest Earth Vs… and P.H.U.Q. will forever remain top of the pile).