Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Welcome Return Of These Middle-Aged Freaks: A Review Of The Splendid New Album From The Wolfhounds

People can say that I live in the past but, really, there have been very few pop thrills that bear adequate comparison to the joy at finding a copy of the original C86 cassette in the Record and Tape Exchange bins in 1987 or so. In my mind, this important moment of personal musical discovery occurs right around the same time that I was working there at the store and spending many a boring mid-week day thumbing through back issues of Melody Maker, Sounds, and the NME in the back-room of the shop.

That tape and those old papers were a crash course on the then-new pop revolution occurring in England. One can say now that it doesn't really matter that those bands didn't achieve big success in the charts because minds were changed, forever. And now, some 28 years after that era, I'm still following some of those acts and looking for any band even tangentially associated with the C86 movement.

Well, The Wolfhounds were on that original NME tape and they kept putting out great music after that C86 moment. A few decades later, and with a member or two different than in the past, and the band are back to share their newest album, the superb Middle-Aged Freaks, out now on Oddbox Records.

The record is aces. The Wolfhounds sound more lively here than many of the younger bands that owe such a huge debt to these guys and their peers. That's not to say that these cats are old -- we are all older, aren't we? -- but to say that this is not a revival act. This is just great indie rock performed with force and fury by a quartet firing on all cylinders. Spin the wickedly named opener "Skullface" and you'll see what I mean.

From The Sun and The Moon-like "Middle Aged Freak", through the Joy Division-esque throb of "Divide and Fall" , and on to "Slide" which, well, slides with Mekons-ish menace and power, these are strong, strong cuts. Frontman David Callahan leads these guys forward with determination.

Take for example "Cheer Up" -- spin that video below. It's like suddenly you hear what a thousand Britpop bands ripped off. Effortlessly melodic and with wit and bite behind it, "Cheer Up" would be a big hit in a perfect world, if I was playing DJ.

The sheer force of these players is nowhere more apparent than on "6,000 Acres" and "Rat on a Raft" which blur together with nary a pause. Callahan and Andy Golding's guitars are weapons here, slashing and cranking out riffs like the best stuff from Diggle's Buzzcocks. The influence of Gang of Four rears its head on this one and The Wolfhounds here sound like worthy heirs to that band too. Drummer Peter Wilkins hits the skins on these cuts like he thinks he's Topper Headon and that's a big compliment.

Bassist Richard Golding holds his own amid the slashing guitar chords of "Security" which echoes very early Echo and the Bunnymen as well as The Wolfhounds' contemporaries McCarthy. Which is a complicated way of saying that this is simply great guitar-based indie rock.

Middle-Aged Freaks by The Wolfhounds is a brisk and forceful reminder of what you like about music of this era. With the exception of spacious album closer "The Ten Commandments of Public Life", these cuts are hooky, near-anthems that are sure to please fans of this band's earlier work. When I listen to Middle-Aged Freaks I can hear the sound of the earlier band that so influenced so many bands, like the Manic Street Preachers. And like the best stuff from those Welsh legends, the songs of these legends are still big, smart tunes full of heart and ideas (the funky "Built-In Obsolescence"). The Wolfhounds are here to recoup some much-deserved dues. So many bands owe these guys so much and Middle-Aged Freaks will remind many a listener of that fact.

And that's not even to mention what a superb record this Wolfhounds disc is in its own right without casting a mental glance back at the C86 era. These guys have lost none of their spark. If anything, they sound more alive now than ever. Middle-Aged Freaks by The Wolfhounds is out now on Oddbox Records.

Follow The Wolfhounds on their official Facebook page.