There’s often the assertion made that the best music is still waiting to be found, and if that’s the case, then The Wildhearts must be one of the best bands on the planet. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but considering their career that’s rapidly verging on three decades and the sort of versatility ranging from pop-rock to metal that should’ve made them an easy sell for so many, they’ve distinctly remained a cult act for all that time. And bringing up the front is their talismanic frontman Ginger, often heralded as one of British rock’s unsung heroes and one of the strongest advocates for the DIY ethos out there. That’s definitely paid off for him too, finding enormous appeal within a niche but dedicated fanbase with his complete disregard for genre boundaries and frankly flooring amount of prolificness. It’s at that intersection where G*A*S*S* Mark II falls, comprising thirteen songs of varying sounds and styles from his year-long G*A*S*S* project in 2014, which saw him releasing three new songs every month for the entirety of the year.
As such, it becomes more beneficial to judge this as a pseudo-compilation album above anything else given that any sort of cohesion is likely to be nonexistent, both thanks to the nature of the project and Ginger as a musician. And on that merit, it’s about as much of a mixed bag as you might expect, but in terms of showcasing the pliability of the limits for Ginger as a musician, to the point where the question of whether they’re there at all can be easily raised, it’s second to none. Really though, that sort of variety can be both a blessing and a curse; as deviations from the alt-rock median, the wistful touches of traditional folk on Caer Urfa or Yolanda Quartey’s outsized, soulful howls over the grunge balladry of Petite Mort really do sound great, especially compared to Don’t Lose Your Tail, Girl’s nine minutes of splicing disparate chunks of Floydian prog, nu-metal grind and pulsating Eurodance in one colossal mess.
That’s probably meant to be the point, sure, but it’s the sort of unhelpful reminder that even the cleverest of ideas don’t necessarily sound pleasant, something that this album could do with less of considering that, for the most part, it’s pretty solid. There’s a gruff, grizzled quality to Ginger’s vocals that fits with the supercharged first-wave Britrock of Friends Of Bill and Adrenalina, or the clear knack for a huge hook on Right In The Feels when paired with the increasingly grandiose instrumental. And of course, there’s the down-to-earth, human approach to songwriting that’s come part and parcel with Ginger over the years, from a simple celebration of a love of music that’s persisted since his formative years on King Rat and Don’t Stop Loving The Music, to the lamentations of how the rest of the world simply doesn’t feel the same, be that in the closure of local venues on Caer Urfa or the diminishing presence of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle in LA on Friends Of Bill. As more of an assemblage of tracks than anything else, there’s really no deeper, overarching theme, but the general lack of flash or pomp keeps this as a remarkably grounded listen, something that works in Ginger’s favour almost constantly.
That’s not to say it’ll be for everyone, or that the deliberate lack of focus can make it slightly difficult to like all the way through, but regardless, it’s incredibly easy to appreciate all the same. It’s a culmination of Ginger’s grassroots ethos working in fine form, taking his own winding path and ending up with some pretty great moments because of it. Even more than that, the fact that G*A*S*S* Mark II is essentially a narrowed-down highlights collection of a year’s worth of work speaks volumes about what Ginger is capable of, even against such unlikely and unwieldy odds.
For fans of: The Wildhearts, Hey! Hello!, Terrorvision
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘G*A*S*S* Mark II’ by Ginger Wildheart is released on 16th November on Round Records.