Saturday, June 28, 2014

Ginger Wildheart - Albion (Pledge Edition)

Ginger Wildheart
Albion (Pledge Edition)
Round Records

The last three years has without a doubt been the busiest Ginger Wildheart has ever been, with the singer/songwriter releasing no less than six studio albums in that time (2012’s triple album ‘555%’, 2013’s ‘Frankenstein Effect’ and ‘Error 500’ under the guise of Mutation and the self-titled debut effort from his Hey! Hello! Project in 2013). Obviously keen to continue striking while the iron’s still hot, Ginger has returned with his seventh album in three years – this time a solo effort entitled ‘Albion’.
Unlike the studio efforts Ginger has produced in recent times, ‘Albion’ is much more of a collaborative effort, with the album being performed by Ginger’s band from the last couple of years The Ginger Wildheart Band (Who otherwise comprise of vocalist/guitarist Ginger, Eureka Machines vocalist/guitarist/harmonium/percussionist Chris Catalyst, ex-Amen/Black Halos vocalist/guitarist Rich Jones, ex-Tragedy/Hey! Hello! vocalist Victoria Liedtke, ex-Cardiacs/The Wildhearts bassist/guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist ‘Random’ Jon Poole, Evil Arrows keyboardist/vocalist/string arranger Bryan Scary and Losers/Young Legionnaire drummer Dean ‘Denzel’ Pearson). And as you would expect, it’s the band that gives Ginger’s latest album a wholly different sound from what we’ve been offered from Ginger in recent years.
Opening with a riff that sounds like it’s been lifted from The Who’s ‘Baba O’Reilly’, ‘Drive’ quickly transforms into a straight ahead sing along rocker that’s as catchy as anything Ginger has ever written on the solo front (In particular the material on ‘555%’), but with enough twists and turns and differing sounds thrown into the mix to give the song a hugely epic feel. Lyrically, the song is about getting away from it all to find yourself, and really, Ginger couldn’t have picked a more perfect way to start the album both lyrically and musically.
The follow-up track ‘Cambria’ is something completely different altogether to the opener, with the pile-driving heaviness of the verses sounding like it could have slotted on the Mutation albums with considerable ease. But it’s during the choruses that things mellow out (In a Hey! Hello! Kind of way courtesy of Liedtke’s gorgeous vocals), and provide the song schizophrenic duality in full. Initially, the song didn’t grab me. But after a while, it’s certainly become a firm favourite.
‘The Road To Apple Cross’ follows a similar path to the former, albeit with a sound that’s more akin to The Wildhearts in the heavier parts, and a chorus that’s impossible not to sing along too, while Ginger’s ode to depression in ‘Order Of The Dog’ is reminiscent of the sweeping epic soundtrack styled songs found on 2008’s ‘Market Harbour’ with a chorus to match. This track is hands down one of my personal favourites on the album.
‘Chill, Motherfucker Chill’ is a chilled out anthem that is easy on the ears with its pop-like delivery, while Catalyst’s co-lead vocals on the progressive tinged rock anthem ‘Burn This City Down’ managed to deliver something completely new to Ginger’s vast musical repertoire.
One track that I’m not entirely in love with is the first single ‘Body Parts’. Perhaps it’s the deliberately cheesy keyboards, the throwaway lyrics or the somewhat obvious bass lines (There’s a definite nod to The Knack’s ‘My Sharona’), but either way I can’t help but feel that the song is one of the weaker efforts on the album. Another tragic misfire to my ears is the offbeat rocker/Silver Ginger 5-like follow-up track ‘The Beat Goes On (Caledonia)’. It’s not that it’s a bad track as such, but it’s a song that doesn’t grab me in the same way that most of the tracks on ‘Albion’ does.
‘After All You Said About Cowboys’ (Which was initially considered for recording during the sessions for ‘555%’) is the album’s sole ballad, and could have easily slotted on 2007’s ‘Yoni’ with its sparse instrumentation and lush backing vocals, while the disco-tinged full on tongue-in-cheek rocker ‘Grow A Pair’ and the semi-acoustic up-tempo ‘70’s blast of ‘I Need You’ are another couple of personal favourites.
The two minute blast of ‘Capital Anxiety’ is a punked up thrasher that could have easily slotted onto the Mutation albums with considerable ease, which is typically followed up with something completely different with The Beatles influenced/strings enhanced/psychedelic ‘Into This’. If anything, the two tracks side by side show the contrasts and breadth within Ginger’s song writing.
‘Creepers’ is a bit of an oddity in the structural sense, with the six minute track boasting complex arrangements and some great vocal play-offs between Ginger and Liedtke, while the closing title track ‘Albion’ is a lengthy ten minute number that brings to mind The Wildhearts at their most epic, albeit with a greater collection of differing and varying influences (Another borrowed riff from The Who, progressive rock passages, Liedtke’s convincing imitation of ‘30’s girl group vocals, Charlie Chaplin spoken word samples from ‘The Dictator’ and some quirky pop). ‘Creepers’ and ‘Albion’ are by far the album’s strangest and adventurous tracks, but also the best examples of just what Ginger is able to achieve in terms of delivering the unexpected.
As mentioned above, this is a review of the Pledge version of ‘Albion’, which is packaged with a bonus D.V.D.
The D.V.D. is split up into two halves, with the first a compilation of the entire studio updates pledges received about the upcoming ‘The Practical Musician’ album (Which eventually became known as ‘Albion’). Running for a touch over fifty minutes, the updates has its share of insightful moments. But the ones worthy of a special mention is the revisiting of ‘After All You Said About Cowboys’, the piecing together of ‘Body Parts’ and producer Kevin Vanbergen’s reflections as the assistant engineer on The Wildheart’s ‘Endless Nameless’ album from 1997.
The second half of the D.V.D. is ‘Albion – The Road Movie’. Of the two offerings, this is the pick. Over the course of its fifty-three minute running time, Ginger takes the viewer on a journey around the British coastline for three weeks (Albion is the oldest known name for the island of Great Britain), with the aim of finding inspiration for some new material (The aim was to write twenty-four tracks in twenty-four days!). There’s plenty of highlights, but those worthy of singling out include a quick first draft run through ‘Drive’, a rough rendition of Steve Earl’s ‘Valentine’s Day’ and Ginger’s brief rundown through his nightly/morning rituals.
Overall, ‘Albion’ is another triumph for Ginger as a song writer, and a credit to the talent that lies within the members of The Ginger Wildheart Band.

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© Justin Donnelly