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The Wolfhounds – Untied Kingdom… Or How To Come To Terms With Your Culture

Optic Nerve
The Wolfhounds - Untied KingdomThere seems to have been a lot of bands returning to action over the last few years, but surely one of the most welcome must be The Wolfhounds. They originally spilt back in 1990 after releasing four albums which culminated with Attitude, and returned a few years ago to release a handful of singles. Those singles have lately been compiled on Middle Aged Freaks, released in 2014, but Untied Kingdom is their first full-length LP since Attitude and is an incredible return to form.

Back in the eighties, along with the likes of McCarthy and The Godfathers, The Wolfhounds peddled a literate, political and angry take on independent English guitar music, with the band’s tight precision and Dave Callahan‘s acerbic vocals painting graphic tales of life in a changing country. The rise of Thatcherism and the collapse of Labour found them plenty about which to become exercised and maybe with the current state of things, the time is perfect for their rebirth. A little bit older and a whole lot wiser, The Wolfhounds once again find themselves holding up a mirror to the current state of things and reflecting it with the help of acid observation and more than a little dry wit.

To be honest, the first few times I listened to this album, I was knocked out by the freshness and vitality of the band, considering their thirty-year history and the long gap between this and the last album; it also took a while for me to realise that the album is called Untied Kingdom and not United Kingdom. The clever subtlety that makes you look twice and question just what it is in front of you goes some way to explaining The Wolfhounds approach to things, and the image of the country somehow becoming loose and out of control is apt.

They have squeezed eleven tracks onto this beauty and perhaps the first thing you notice on opener “Apparition”, a haunting a capella Dickensian tale of class distinction, is how much deeper and richer Callahan’s voice has become over the years. With a little digital manipulation of street noises and found sounds, the years and the time spent in Moonshake have clearly been kind. The strength of the whole band and their renewed vitality becomes apparent on the next track “Now I’m A killer”: the drums are driving and fearless, and the guitars shrill and harsh — and thankfully, this is not an exercise in rolling back the years. The band could have formed any time and are certainly not relying on past glories.

The band’s tale of a penniless youth, “My Legendary Childhood”, finds them slower and more subdued, Terry Edwards‘s melancholic horns adding lovely texture and female harmonies giving some sweetness to a pretty common tale of seventies England. Everything being “second-hand and or shabby” just trips beautifully off the tongue. As does “All our friends are monsters, but I can see my own reflection in everything they say and do”. The lovely chiming guitar and a keyboard break are a little emotive, but add some tempered sweetness to a dark subject.

On “The Stupid Poor”, they come on like a nightmare of Jesus Lizard covering “Cotton Eye Joe”; there is feedback and rawness, something visceral about the bass, the harmonies bring a richness, but the whole thing is slightly wild: “The stupid poor, always want more, they’re coming for your TV.” The country has been overtaken by ne’er do wells and the only thing stopping them from stealing our stuff is The Wolfhounds and their brawny, instrument-abusing square dance bludgeoning. There are car alarms and wind chimes on the speeded up protest pop of “Lucky Heather”, and simple beatbox drums keep the sound mysterious and expansive.

A strummed acoustic guitar and blurred vocals on “Oppositeland” make way for the industrial clank and groan of “Fire In The Home”. They are covering a lot of bases, but the thing is, there are earworms here. Not only are the songs satisfying lyrically and instrumentally, but they move in a way that can cause hips to shake and become stuck in your head. Whistling along the road as the lyrics “I’ll put the thanks in the bank” go swirling round my head was a pleasurable surprise. The only look back, penultimate track “The Comedians” is a C86 strumfest; a fantastic tempo, metronomic toybox drums, the vibrancy of the sound is all delightful, but in some ways puts the final track’s tour de force into context — the tempo chops and heaves, the freak out violin break is wild and the way the whole things builds in to a great crescendo leaves me wanting more.

This is a real delight. It stays true to their legacy but pushes it way beyond what any of us may have been realistically expecting. Let us hope that they are back for good.

-Mr Olivetti-

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