Review Summary: Wildhearts frontman Ginger continues a rather prolific couple of years with a solo effort that's sure to cement his status as one of Great Britain's best songwriters.
For a man who once sang that "No one likes a long roller coaster ride,"
Mr. David Walls, or Ginger to all but his mother, has a led a life with many more ups and downs than most theme parks could boast. The last two decades have seen him twice lead his band The Wildhearts
to chart-topping success, only for everything to fall apart around him in a black cloud of addiction, legal wrangles and bad blood. A slew of post-Wildhearts projects saw the light of day, but never the critical acclaim and success they truly deserved, and culminated with Ginger returning to the needle. The last three years however, have seen renewed activity from arguably Britain's finest songwriter; in the aftermath of a messy breakup from his then-fiancee, Ginger overcame his chemical dependency and relocated to the US to produce his first solo album proper, "Valor Del Corazon,"
and after some involvement in other musical projects he released a follow up, "Yoni,"
and simultaneously reformed the Wildhearts with a much more stable line-up.
The present day finds our protagonist touring heavily with The Wildhearts
, and using the downtime between tours to record solo and side-project material. "Market Harbour"
was recorded in mid-2007, and sees him combining the huge variety of influences displayed on "Valor..."
with the soft melodic-pop nous of "Yoni,"
eschewing the tendencies towards over-long and complicated song structures found on both, resulting in an upbeat collection of breezy pop songs, and a refreshing and worthy addition to Ginger's lengthy back-catalogue.
The songs all make up one continuous hour of music (with some songs flowing directly into one another and others connected by short interludes), and the range of instrumentation therein is huge: in addition to the traditional rock band setup of drums, bass, guitars and vocals, the songs are awash with warm layers of piano and hammond organ, vast waves of vocal harmonies, lilting string and brass sections, and subtle keyboard and electronic textures (similar in their style to the ambient effects used by Ginger's one-time bandmate Devin Townsend
, although in a much less dense arrangement).
Tracks like "House of Moths"
and "Awareness and the Great Integrity"
find Ginger in a reflective mood, with lines like "Each step that I take, each day I wake up until death, I'll take comfort and pride"
and "In this world in need of distraction, I'm just learning how to be"
oozing a thoughtful and palpable sense of optimism (a recurring theme in Ginger's work since getting off drugs). The former is a strangely catchy downtempo number featuring gentle acoustic strumming, bells, and an oddly effective use of a circus-style brass and keyboard combo in the second verse, while the latter displays a more maudlin mood, with an almost gospel-choir feel in the choruses, and a snaking bassline driving the verse. "How Hard Can You Make It""
rides in on a dramatic violin intro, before morphing into a cross between the Red Hot Chili Peppers
' "Under the Bridge,"
and one of Feeder
's softer, more recent numbers - a strange, but suprisingly pleasant combination.
The influence of Ginger's main band shines through on "The Queen of Leaving,"
a bouncy pop-rock nugget reminiscent of The Wildhearts
' "So Into You,"
and the vocoder-heavy "Attentionette"
features a solid drumbeat and a riff that wouldn't have been out of place on the aforementioned band's "P.H.U.Q."
album. "Josser Bank,"
with it's lo-fi glam-rock stomp, and "Overeasy"
with it's huge singalong chorus are similarly reminiscent of Ginger's more pedal-to-the-metal tendencies. The addition of a guest vocalist (the liner notes don't elaborate as to which of the many that are listed is taking the lead) on "Couple Trouble"
gives a different slant to the music, with the soulful vocal performance comparable to that of Maroon 5's vocalist. On the following track, "The Perilous Burden of Prodigal Obligation,"
Ginger similarly takes a back seat in the vocal department, providing sublime harmonies for two other guest vocalists through the windswept verses and the anthemic choruses.
I could go into so much more detail about the songs - I've owned it for a mere couple of days, listened to it nearly twenty times through already, and each listen reveals new layers of instrumention, extra vocal harmonies, a guitar lead that I missed on the previous listen, another particularly clever lyric... you get the picture - but it would take days worth of writing just to scratch the surface, such is the scope of the album. In fact, it's hard to fault "Market Harbour"
in any way; even the interlude tracks hold the listener's interest (worth a special mention are the country style hoe-down of "The Ninns of Mourning"
(think The Minutemen
and you're on the right track), and the monolithic drum thunder of "Eye of the Rotunda"
). If any criticism could be levelled here, it would be that Ginger occasionally cuts some tracks short before their time; "Couple Trouble"
and "Josser Bank"
in particular could be doubled in length without outstaying their welcome. However, this is sheer pickiness on my part, and perhaps it's this brevity with track lengths that has been partly what's inspired me to return for so many repeat listens.
The album is bookended by two of the its finest songs, "Casino Bay"
which despite their musical brilliance, are especially effective thanks to a particularly poignant lyric taken from each: Ginger begins the album stating that "It's almost worth the pain when you get to turn it around"
and finishes by asking "How can you kill something that will not die""
These two lines are indicative of the resilience, motivation, and unwillingness to let the bastards grind him down, that have kept Ginger alive on the journey that finds him currently in "Market Harbour."
Where he goes from here is anyone's guess, but you can be sure the journey is far from over.
RATING -----> 4.5/5