For a few years last century, the Wildhearts were the world’s best rock ‘n’ roll band you never heard of. Though English, they could’ve tore off from the Sunset Strip—all ratty ‘dos, dodgy ink, soiled T’s, and drainpipe jeans. The sticker on ’93’s Earth vs. the Wildhearts, their only U.S. album, boasted that the contents resembled “Jan and Dean colliding with Motörhead” (or was it “the Turtles mounting Mötley Crüe”? I forget). Forging a kind of Bazooka metal (bubblegun?), they marshaled Cheap Trick’s power-pop smarts, Hanoi Rocks’ gypsy glam, and Vai/Van Halen’s flying-V calisthenics in the service of clever, unpretentious songs fraught with euphoric melodies. That these ‘hearts flatlined four years later wasn’t much of a shock, considering their swan song, Endless, Nameless, was the white-noise spew of a band grating while disintegrating. But recent months have seen three ex-members come around again with discs that share little but the love of a choice choon.
Greetings now from Shitsville, NW3: As Americans Limp Bizkit and Papa Roach lord it over the U.K.’s hard-rock landscape and the NME anoints Americans Queens of the Stone Age, At the Drive-In, Amen, and the Strokes (the Strokes?) this week’s alternative royalty, Wildheart main man Ginger (born David Walls, now a/k/a SilverGinger 5) issues quite possibly the greatest pop-metal album, hmmm . . . ever? Right under the Brits’ bloody noses. Er, right under their bloody noses if they happen to be expats living in Tokyo. See, Ginger had to look to the land of the rising sun (where the Wildhearts, apparently, are Toho-sized monsters) to release Black Leather Mojo. Five Ks from Kerrang! and a couple of big London SG5 gigs later, the disc still remains unreleased in the U.K. or, for that matter, anywhere outside Japan.
Ain’t that a shame. Because if Endless, Nameless was Ginger’s smack album (with titles like “Junkenstein” and “Heroin”—OK, it was), Black Leather Mojo is his Ecstasy epic, a 59-minute distillation of every hard-rock epiphany you ever experienced—plus the ones you wish you had—coated in production so gilded you’d swear Ivana Trump had a hand in it. A true believer in the majesty of rock and fantasy of roll, the red-dreaded 36-year-old pines for the days when bands were pissed up, not off, and wrote songs, not just riffs—all the while wondering whatever happened to all of the rock ‘n’ roll girls. An old-fashioned romantic, he likes girls better than boys because “they got the sweetest feet and they don’t piss on the seat of the toilet.” And for a guy who confesses, “I want a lot where a little would do,” he satisfies his considerable appetites with an enormous sound. “Divine Imperfection” does just what it says on the tin, snapping squealing six-strings at Vegas horns and then a heavenly heavy-sistah choir; “Take It All, Why Don’tcha” is the Hoodoo Gurus if they had let their hair down; and on the toe-curling Bruckheimer ballad “Church of the Broken Hearted,” John Lennon gets stranded in the cold November rain.
Ginger guests on the debut from Grand Theft Audio, the Big Beat electro-punk quartet featuring ex-Wildheart Ritch Battersby on battery. Their Blame Everyone welds terrace chants to the clatter of Endless, Nameless (which bassist/samplist/ex-EMF-cohort Ralph Jezzard produced), and the result’s enough dumbo anthems to fuel any movie starring a Freddie, a Seth, or a Rachael. No surprise, then, that “Stoopid Ass” (think gangsta Pop Will Eat Itself) appears on the Dude, Where’s My Car? soundtrack and “We Luv U” can be heard in Tomcats. It’s difficult to find fault with any band whose opening salvo is about having to change their name and who cop from the Ramones, go back in black, and say you gotta move when they’re rockin’ on your stereo. But you manage to find it when the ghost of ABBA appears seven tracks in. “Dead Man Leaving,” the jaw-dropping closer, however, deviates from the din and comes on like a polished Raw Power outtake, replete with down-periscope piano plinks.
Longtime Wildhearts bassist Danny McCormack (whose brother is Grand Theft Audio’s guitarist), now fronts the good-timey Yo-Yo’s (whose drummer also plays on Black Leather Mojo—paging Pete Frame). More Sha Na Na than Social Distortion, these four leather-jacketed greasers drive up in a brand-new Cadillac, sling their axes low, slather Brylcream on T. Rex, and mispronounce “lie-ee-ife” as though it were the most precious word in the OED. For guys who sing like they gargle with the glass Iggy swam in, they sure do harmonize real purty. But when they’re making like Lit and hanging up on the girl they’re hung up on or bitching about cell phones, their sideburns seem like the only sharp things here.
So there. As some prime remains of an underrated/underknown U.K. group take stabs at U.S. ears, where does that leave their true star, Ginger? Making noises about duetting with Jason of the Scorchers, about reforming the Wildhearts, and about hiring Nikki Sixx to produce the next SilverGinger 5 album. Two of which sound like very good ideas indeed. Guess.