Brit rockers the Wildhearts Don’t Do Bad Albums: Nowadays, we seem to be regularly told that rock & roll is dead. Honestly, people have been ringing rock’s death knell for decades, at least since electronic music made its way out of illegal warehouse raves and started bothering the charts. The recent golden period of hip-hop only furthered those cries. And of course, they are and have always been utter bullshit.
Music doesn’t die. The media spotlight might focus more brightly on different areas at different times, but that doesn’t mean that the music in the shade isn’t blooming. The dark art, “underground” if you like, is very often the most interesting. Rock & roll will never die, and the walking, talking embodiment of that bloody headedness is Brit band the Wildhearts.
This writer has been a fan of the Newcastle band since their 1993 Earth vs the Wildhearts debut and has been covering them since embarking on this career in mid ’99. Life has seen many changes, but the joy brought by these wildest of hearts has remained constant. Their new album, 21st Century Love Songs, is their 10th studio full lengther. There are countless other live albums, compilations, EPs and singles (the latter generally packed with b-sides better than most artists’ best material), plus various other projects featuring the band’s members, past and present, that are all worth dipping into.
The heart of the ‘hearts is frontman and main songwriter Ginger. A complex soul, anyone who follows the singer, guitarist and songwriter on social media will know that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Or as he put it during this Zoom interview, “I don’t do well with dickheads.” As a result, he can come across as abrasive and that side certainly makes itself known in the Wildhearts sound, to its immense benefit. But so does Ginger’s capacity to empathize, to fucking feel. Get drunk and lairy with him in a bar and he might knock your block off. But he’s also among the first to raise his voice for society’s most vulnerable. For human rights, and animal rights too.
The title track to the new album, for example, includes the line, “He said a man needs a woman at the end of the day, what a moronic crock of shit for anybody to say, ‘cause if you’re bisexual, asexual, lesbian or gay, then you are not represented by the radio anyway.”
Ginger and the Wildhearts have long had the capacity to distill sentiments and emotions into their basic components, and then expand on them all. Rearrange them. The approach to the actual music is similar. You’ll think a song is going in one direction, and they’ll pull a handbrake turn on you and go in another direction entirely. The new album is no different, following 2019’s excellent Renaissance Men.
“On the last one, the jury was out on how the critics were gonna receive it,” Ginger says. “It was a bit of a ‘we like it, we don’t care what anyone else thinks.’ Now, we’re a bit cocky thinking that people are gonna like it. Which you do when you’ve done one critically acclaimed record. I guess this one, you hope people like your music but you never can tell. We kinda understand because it’s not very commercial in as much as it’s not obvious. Not a very generic sounding record. The last one was a bit more expected – traditional song arrangements and stuff.”
The lineup of the Wildhearts has shifted over the years, with Ginger the one constant. But the current band – completed by guitarist CJ, bassist Danny McCormack and drummer Ritch Battersby – is generally considered the “classic lineup.” McCormack was the most recent to return, following a slew of health problems that eventually saw him lose a leg. With a few miles on the clock, the band appears to be as stable as it’s ever been from the outside. Appearances, however, can be deceiving.
“It’s never settled,” Ginger says. “[McCormack’s] a fucking nightmare. It’s never going to be settled. We’re four very different types of people and that’ll always be the case. I don’t think at this point in our lives we’re going to turn any corners or learn anything that we haven’t already learned. All the stupidity in the band is there to stay. I write the music though. If he wants to have his own little fantasy world, then great. It’s not going to affect the songs either way. It’s not going to make them better or worse, it’s just he could do with taking it a bit more seriously. But that’s just the way that he is.”
If chaos still has a hand over the Wildhearts, the music on 21st Century Love Songs hasn’t suffered one bit. It never has, because Ginger is a perfectionist and he won’t let it. He does say that writing for this band is relatively easy these days.
“It’s like being married,” he says. “It’s like having sex with the missus. It’s great, and you know what you do well, and there’s not many surprises. I know what we’d do badly. We wouldn’t do reggae, or country music very well. I’ve got another band called Ginger Wildheart & the Sinners who do country music great. That’s more of a challenge for me. The Wildhearts is quite a comfortable gig now, and none of it is that taxing.”
Ginger has been back and forth to L.A. over the years – he had a short and ill-fated spell in Tracii Guns’ Brides of Destruction, and he also wrote and played with Courtney Love for a bit. A suspended sentence after a UK bar fight meant that he couldn’t come out for a while, and when that fell away the pandemic happened. Hopefully, he’ll be able to return soon enough, with the Wildhearts or otherwise. He does like the place.
“I would like to come to L.A. and for it to work out,” he says. “I’ve been there loads of times where it spat me out. I don’t tend to be able to make L.A. work, and I think it’s because I’ve been there looking for something. You’re better off going to L.A. when you’ve already found it. I’ve got lots of nice friends there who I miss a lot. You need to have an infrastructure in L.A. to arrive in. Going there to try to make friends guarantees you the wrong kind of friends. It’s a great place full of wonderful people.”
While we wait on that, there’s the new album to enjoy, plus an album from his Sinners project next year. He’s working on a solo album, and there’s going to be a deluxe rerelease of the Wildhearts’ second album phuq.
“I’ll stay busy,” Ginger says. “Don’t you worry about that.”
Brit rockers the Wildhearts Don’t Do Bad Albums: The 21st Century Love Songs album is out now.
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