It’s a tragedy that The Xcerts aren’t huge, and what’s even more disappointing, it’s pretty much unexplainable why that’s the case. They may have been one of many to first find favour among the early 2010’s Britrock boom, but where so many managed to ride out their success into a substantial career, The Xcerts have had their work cut out simply trying to keep their heads above water. Even if they don’t deviate much from the traditional Britrock trappings – massive, anthemic songs, plain-spoken earnestness and Murray Macleod’s natural Scottish brogue that always goes down well – there’s just something about the simplicity and heart that’s always been in the trio’s arsenal that’s put them at such an advantage.
And yet, Hold On To Your Heart seems to want to push itself down a different path. If 2014’s There Is Only You was The Xcerts capping their Britrock prowess, this follow-up finds its feet by looking to the past, co-opting the sounds of ’80s new wave and heartland rock where the stories of young lovers running wild are just as intrinsic as huge feelings of freedom and melancholy. In other words, the combination is near-perfect, and even if Hold On To Your Heart is a little lighter and more polished than The Xcerts’ previous efforts, the wash of broad emotions and youthful melodrama is next to impossible not to be swept up in.
And right from the very first listen, it’s easy to see just how these elements have been implemented. The pop-rock melodies that have long been The Xcerts’ forte remain, but with the beds of glistening synthwork beneath every track and particularly the saxophone that bursts through Drive Me Wild and Cry, the Bruce Springsteen influence becomes even more prominent. It’s that draw from a brand of quintessentially American brand of power-pop that lifts Hold On To Your Heart up a level, allowing them to bring their penchant for a glorious melody to the fore in a way that has more of a straight-up pop appeal than ever before. Of the ten tracks here, there’s not a single dud among them, and at least half could easily be The Xcerts’ own Born To Run, whether that’s the pure exuberance and bliss of Daydream and First Kiss Feeling, or the more spacious, sombre balladry of the title track or Show Me Beautiful with a resonance in Macleod’s vocals that only sets them further apart from the generic Britrock crowd.
That doesn’t come at the loss of their populist appeal though, and Hold On To Your Heart takes arguably the simplest template imaginable and still manages to make it work, starting with The Dark which sees Macleod lamenting his own loneliness while surrounded by other couples, subsequently leading to numerous vignettes about love and loss played with the sweeping romanticism that a hearty new wave influence would offer. The strange thing is, what could potentially come across as too broad or lacking in detail never really shows up; there’s not a huge amount of nuance to tracks like Feels Like Falling In Love or Cry (honestly it’s probably the biggest shortcoming of this album as a whole), but they manage to avoid falling into cliché or tedium, mainly because The Xcerts are the sort of engaging, consummate performers that ensure it never sounds forced or disingenuous, and when it’s done to such a degree as this, there’s really no problems with succumbing to those biggest emotions almost exclusively.
Sure, it maybe would’ve been nice to see a bit deeper into these stories, but as an attempt at emulating such an iconic, anachronistic style, Hold On To Your Heart barely puts a foot wrong. If anything, this feels like a foil of sorts to The Menzingers’ After The Party, another album heavily indebted to the Americana of years past, but more keen on exploring the intricacies of those situations rather than the heady surface rush, and considering that album was the best of last year, the fact that those comparisons can be drawn at all is hardly a bad thing. Admittedly The Xcerts don’t quite reach the same heights that The Menzingers did, but they’re incredibly close, closer than any of their former contemporaries have managed in some time, and if this sort of Britrock needs a representative in 2018, The Xcerts are far and away the best choice.
For fans of: Lower Than Atlantis, Deaf Havana, Fatherson
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Hold On To Your Heart’ by The Xcerts is released on 19th January on Raygun Records.