If anything, the Wildhearts’ relative anonymity on U.S. soil is likely a pulse-taking of the general state of melodic-based heavy guitar rock. Still, there are plenty of American devil-horn hoisters who should quickly familiarize themselves with the Wildhearts’ singular whiplash mash-up of Motörhead riffage and Ramones ragged pop-punk glory.
Founded in 1989, in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, the Wildhearts have a voluminous back-catalog with an impossibly cohesive musical multiple personality disorder: Panzer tank guitar riffs, time changes galore, call and response punk anthems, power-pop melodies, B sides that compete in the ring with A sides, three-part harmonies, even an occasional, subtle, proggy show of technical prowess, an affectation of three decades of touring together. This band is tight and totally arena worthy.
The line-up has changed over the years, always fronted by Ginger Wildheart, but this is the line-up the loyalists deem the “classic,” featuring Ginger on guitar and vocals; CJ on guitar and vocals; the power and precision drum work of Ritch Battersby and, for the first time since a 2005 one-off show, the return of punk stalwart Danny McCormack on bass (the heavy bass tone on this album, incidentally, sounds on occasion like it ascended like an oceanic belch from the depths of the Mariana Trench).
It’s been ten years since the band’s madly eclectic Chutzpah! During the absence, front man Ginger released enough solo albums to fill a veritable Public Storage unit, albums hopscotching from blast-beat grindcore to country folk. Wildhearts pop-jester, CJ, felled three massively infectious solo disks of his own during the hiatus, each a melodic driven guitar rock album growing louder, angstier, more metallic, foreshadowing the build-up to the Wildhearts’ first album in a decade.
Renaissance Men does not disappoint. 39 minutes, containing ten unrelenting tracks, eschewing the bloated excess of 1990’s 70-minute compact disks in favor of short and sweet 70s rock vinyl yearning for more.
Opening track, “Dislocated,” opens with a squelch of distortion and quickly catapults into a contagious guitar riff that proclaims the Wildhearts are standing by to fill the massive black hole left by the untimely death of Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister in 2015. The verse/chorus coupling is vintage Wildhearts: 40 grit sandpaper juxtaposed by an instantly memorable powerpop singalong. The opening track is a harbinger of the album to come—angry, loud, distorted, warts and all, up against surf-worthy waves of glass melody. Grading to melodious, often in ten-second hairpin turns, the album is the punk defiance anti-Brexiteers and the pussy hat American resistance have needed from punk music. This is pure anti-establishment, new referendum, dammit, orange blowhard fightin’ music for the modern age.
The disk moves into track two with nary a moment of in-between respite, instead a squelch of guitar-jack banshee and it’s off into the anthemic “Let Em Go,” a Drop Kick Murphys stomp-along featuring a vocal cameo by folk-punk favorite Frank Turner.
Let em go
Let em go
Let the shit filled rivers flow
The song is a hoisting of the middle finger to the world we live in, the “wankers” around us, but also, more broadly, the near-dystopian, squalorous political landscape we presently fester in. Like all of the lyrics on the record, there’s the perfect marriage of specificity to Ginger’s daily struggles (and he details them regularly on his social media feeds) and a wider metaphor to be interpreted by the listener. This is an angry, cacophonous rock album, for angry, cacophonous times.
“My Kind of Movie” showcases a blistering riff, coupled with one of the band’s trademarks—the irresistible PB and J, gin and tonic, name-your-favorite-combo, of Ginger and CJ harmonizing on lead vocal as they opine about crack cocaine, VHS tapes and Ingmar Bergman films, amongst other topics.
The title track is a defiant pop declaration of the Wildhearts return, a proclamation of self-belief and self-reliance. This band is back.
“Diagnosis,” one of many album highlights, opens with enough three-chord arena bravado to make Angus Young soil his school-boy knickers. The track addresses Ginger’s own very public melee with depression and the mental health crisis on both sides of the Atlantic.
“You are not your diagnosis,” the Wildhearts command, sounding like a band of brothers and grizzly throated pirates—and they are, navigating beyond mental hospital residencies, epic drug addictions, in-band melees, break-ups, record label feuds, broken hearts and all the other tropes of Behind the Music formulae. Returning bassist Danny McCormick lost part of his lower leg, for chrissakes. This is not the self-congratulatory, romance heroin poseurdom of Mötley Crüe, this is real fucking life. Renaissance Men is a bold, brash, authentic, pissed off, hook-laden return for a band whose time for widespread global recognition is long past due.