Review Summary: "Coupled With" shows that leftovers from the grand rock table of The Wildhearts makes for a veritable feast of rockage...
It's always heartening, when finding a new favourite band, to discover that they have a vast back catalog to dive through; the almost limitless possibility of continually being able to delve into old singles, EPs and the like to find more hidden gems appeals to our inner child's desire to explore. But let's face facts; B-sides, generally speaking, have a considerable stigma attached to them. In this day and age of recording the bare minimum amount of songs to release a record (and then releasing half of them as singles), the word "B-Side" conjures up horrible thoughts of half-arsed dance remixes, shoddily-recorded live tracks, or even the ultimate rip-off - more tracks lifted straight from the full-length! When bands do decide to include exclusive B-sides, the listener is often left to discover the sad fact that they've just parted with their cash for a song they already have, along with one or two that were rejected from the album for a good reason. At the end of the day, singles are a promotional tool, and the less effort the bands/labels can put into their release, the greater the profits they'll receive.
But among a shitstorm of transparent promotional ripoffs, it's always nice to find a band who put a little care into their single releases; a band who are prolific and studio-savvy enough to have plenty of songs to spare; a band, ladies and gentlemen, like the Wildhearts. Seriously, for every single these guys have recorded, they've knocked out about 5 B-sides to go along with it. Even more suprisingly, many of these b-sides have gone on to become fan favourites, the sort of songs that the band would get lynched for not playing at any given gig. So it comes as no surprise that The Wildhearts
would eventually release a B-sides collection. However, the remarkable thing is that this collection of 20 tracks are all culled from the recording sessions around ONE ALBUM (the magnificent "The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed"
Yes, once again, Ginger and co. have proved that they are entirely incapable of writing a bad song, a claim amply justified by the fact that most of the tracks on "Coupled With"
could have been put in place of some of the tracks on "...Must Be Destroyed"
without even slightly lowering the (immensely high) quality of that release. By virtue of the fact that all the tracks were recorded around the same time, the production is consistent meaning that, combined with the amount of musical variety on display here, the disc has much less of a compilation-feel about it; it could almost stand as an album in its own right (albeit a rather lengthy one).
Kicking off, rather ironically, with an A-side, "Stormy in the North, Karma in the South"
(incidentally the only single released before "...Must be Destroyed"
which didn't make it onto the album), the sugary pop melodies and vocal harmonies are driven straight to the fore, accompanied by Stidi's propulsive drumming, getting the album off to a tidy start, before the slightly more mid-paced "Move On"
with it's snaking guitar lines giving way to a huge verse melody and stomping chorus. The Wildhearts
' strengths have always laid in their ability to effortlessly combine hooky melodic punk and slick metal riffs with impressive musicianship that belies the pop sensibility that oozes from their every pore, and this varied approach to songwriting is displayed brilliantly in tracks like "Looking for the One"
(a billy-club of a song, swinging between chunky metal crunch and sublime melodies), "Eager to Leave 'Er"
(a heady combination of punk-infused energy, rock'n'roll swagger, and more of those skyscraping harmonies), and the frantic juggernaut that is "Action Panzer."
It's fair to say that this particular incarnation of The Wildhearts
placed the emphasis on more simplistic and poppy songwriting than before (possibly a reaction to the rather confused response given by the fans to the fuzz-fest that was "Endless Nameless,"
which incidentally gets soncially referenced here in the uber-distorted form of "Return to Zero"
), but it's still nice to see the presence of some slightly more complex songs that go beyond the simple verse-chorus-verse structure, in the tradition of old favourites like "Everlone."
Particularly notable are "Lake of Piss"
(the longest track, at 5 minutes 33 seconds, featuring numerous different sections, tempo changes, and most impressively, a face-mangling piece of fretboard-shreddery towards the end of the song), and the ridiculously-titled "You Got to Get Through What You've Got to Go Through to Get What You Want, But You Got to Know What You Want to Get Through What You Got to Go Through"
(no, I'm not kidding...), with it's dreamy intro recalling the likes of "In Lily's Garden"
sweetening the blow of the bulldozer riff that follows (not to mention a strange percussion-led chorus that still throws me off every time I listen to it!).
If there's any criticism that can be levelled at "Coupled With,"
it's that in places, the lyrics seem a little uninspired, particularly in songs like "Putting It On"
where the same lines are repeated ad nauseum, but this a minor gripe, which is all but made up for in the sheer catchiness that disguises such repetitiveness. The other obvious complaint is why this is a single disc collection of b-sides from just one era, when there was the blatant opportunity to gather old classics like "29x the Pain"
and "Shut Your Fucking Mouth and Use Your Fucking Brain"
and make an exhaustive collection of Wildhearts B-sides, but apparently record label wranglings (a constant thorn in the band's side throughout their career), and problems with ownership of recordings would have made this difficult to say the least.
Overall though, "Coupled With"
is a more than worthy collection of what are, regardless of their status in the band's catalog, top-notch songs, demonstrating exactly why Ginger keeps resurrecting the band again and again in the face of adversity, and it comes highly recommended to any fan of the band, or even as a introduction to the band for those who are yet to experience the vastly underrated rock force that is the Wildhearts.