It's no exaggeration to state that The Wildhearts are the best British band of the past 30 years. Eyebrows may raise at that, scoffs might be uttered, but for the most part that's because barely a fraction of the number of people who should be aware of this ludicrously brilliant band actually are. That the likes of Mumford & Sons and Coldplay sell hundreds of thousands of records and tickets on this side of the Atlantic while The Wildhearts wallow in relative obscurity is the very definition of unjust.
Those of us in the know (in the States) do at least get to enjoy the fact that we've been in on one of music's best kept secrets for three full decades. It's worth noting, by the way, that the band's British fanbase is fiercely loyal as is the Japanese, to name but two.
The Wildhearts formed in 1989, went through a few members before settling down, released the Mondo Akimbo a Go-Go EP in '92, and never looked back. Three EPs, nine full-length albums and countless singles later, and we're still waiting for the day that they release a dud. Seriously, their worst B-side is better than most bands' hit singles. Their consistency is near-alarming.
So here we are in 2019 with album number nine, poetically titled Renaissance Men. Somehow, 10 years has passed since their eighth, ¡Chutzpah!, and a lot has happened in-between. Frontman Ginger released a string of amazing solo albums while also joining and leaving Michael Monroe's band (he of Hanoi Rocks) as well as Courtney Love's. Meanwhile, classic lineup bassist Danny McCormack rejoined in 2018 after 13 years out; health issues saw him have a leg amputated but that hasn't slowed him down one bit. The quartet is completed by fellow longtime members CJ (guitar) and Ritch Battersby (drums), and this is the lineup that recorded 1995's brilliant P.H.U.Q. album.
Despite the fact that the six albums released between P.H.U.Q. and this new one are all fantastic, Renaissance Men is arguably still the best since '95. The brilliance of The Wildhearts might also be the thing that has long held them back — a stubborn refusal to settle on one sound. It's all about the song — fuck genre. So they dip their collective toes into punk and metal, power-pop and folk-rock, outlaw-country and even industrial from time to time. They just don't care, which leads to thrilling music. Meanwhile, lazy bastards don't know which box to place them in.
Take the opening track, “Dislocated,” which plays the classic Wildies trick of leading you down one road then pulling a handbreak turn and speeding down another with reckless abandon. Ginger loves doing that to his listeners, and “Dislocated” changes direction at least three times. There's the roaring, metallic early bit, the lush harmonic bit, the relatively sparse and beautifully somber bit — the whole thing is a frenetic, satisfying head-fuck, complete with soothing cigarette.
That's followed by the boisterous, anthemic “Let 'Em Go” which, wait, yep, that's flinging us about too. There's a mildly folky bit, before a soccer chant-esque refrain. God, it's beautiful — even when they're singing, “Let the shit-filled rivers flow.”
The title track is pure power-pop perfection, while “Fine Art of Deception” builds and builds into one of the best punk rock anthems in recent memory. And the album just keeps going, quality never dipping, before “Pilo Erection” cruelly brings things to a close with an epic sweep.
Anyone waiting for a bad Wildhearts album can just keep waiting. This band doesn't do 'em.
The Wildhearts' Renaissance Men is out on May 3 via Graphite Records.