Saturday, 9 June 2012

555%: The future's bright, the future's Ginger

If you were around in the 90s and had your ear to the alternative scene, you may well be aware of a band called The Wildhearts. You may also be aware that the man behind them was called Ginger.

Well, if this was the NME, this would be a where are they now feature, but as I’m a fan of most of Ginger’s work I can tell you that he’s actually one of the most prolific and talented UK songwriters of the past 20 years.

Eight albums with the Wildhearts, three or four solo albums (depending on who’s counting) and an unerring ear for melody and crunch, which takes in ABBA, Cheap Trick, Sparks, Metallica and everything in between.

He’s also very available to his fans, being a big fan of Twitter, and running a Formspring question and answer forum where he’s answered thousands of questions from his fans. Anyway, disillusioned with the rock lifestyle last year, he was close to quitting, before someone told him about Pledge music.

Pledge is a crowd-sourced album funding model. Ginger, never the biggest fan of record companies, gave it a go, setting a modest target to be reached in around six weeks so that he could realise his dream of recording a triple album.

The record was fully funded within six hours, and a couple of months down the line stood at 555% of the total. Which is what he decided to call the album.

Now some ‘rock stars’ may choose to take the money and just bang out an album. Not Ginger. He roped in musicians he’d worked with throughout his career, from CJ and Ritch of WIldhearts fame, Willie Dowling of Whatever and Meg and Mog fame, Jon Poole of random (and Cardiacs) fame, and the relatively unknown Chris Catalyst, Rich Jones and Victoria Liedtke.

The album runs the gamut of styles from Simon and Garfunkel style folk, to Rush inspired intrumentals, a punk blast or two, and the pop genius that Ginger has become rightly famous for.

The sheer variety on offer here is almost ridiculous. Westward Ho! (A New Reputation) is an off-kilter pop tune, with big choruses and a African-inspired mid section, which takes it to a whole other level.

Of course there are the standard Ginger rockers, with I-N-T-E-R-N-A-L-R-adio, The Other Side, Baby Skies and Beautifully, Blissfully Unsettled being tunes you’d expect of mid-90s Wildhearts, but it’s on the tracks where he cuts loose from his past that the album really shines.

Another Spinning Fucking Rainbow (surely a candidate for best song title of the year) begins with a squelchy bassline, mutates into a Stevie Wonder funk riff, and end up with a country-inspired chorus. And Taste Aversion is a big showtune of a metal blast, with the radio baiting chorus “Fucked from behind”. Not one to play with the kids around!

Ginger also shows himself as a superb ballad writer. On each disc of the album there’s a track which gives the album an extra lift. Incidental Noises is a funk-lite ballad about the annoying things your other half does, Illuminating Times a beautiful soft tune, and Sleeping in the Light an inspiring track featuring full orchestration and sky-high choruses.

The real stand-outs though are a track that pushes the limits of his band, a simple and sweet tune, and an 80s inspired rocker. We’ve Been Expecting You is a 60s-esque campfire tune about the birth of a child and is one of the sweetest, most heartfelt things I’ve heard Ginger do. Lover It’ll All Work Out is possibly the best straight-ahead rock tune Ginger has ever written, with inspiring lyrics referencing his near-retirement from music.

And the final stand-out is the closer to disc one. Time begins with a stately Big Ben guitar refrain. Timing changes throughout, and chorus that owes a lot to the Beatles, before hitting a proggy middle section which takes the song into the stratosphere. There’s hints of Pink Floyd in there, and a bit more Rush. It’s truly spectacular.

It’s a crowning moment on an album with many highs, and very few lows (Very Very Slow, a real filler track). But the fact that 30 tracks, written by one man in a very short period, can be so consistently brilliantly is truly astounding.

Not only is this a highlight in Ginger’s career, it’s also testament to what musicians can achieve outside the traditional confines of the record industry. It’s difficult to imagine a record label giving him this freedom to record whatever his creative impulse wanted to, and I hope to see more artists take these kind of risks.