Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Best Irish Albums: FOUR

WHIPPING BOY – Heartworm (1995)

Best song: “Tripped” 

So you remember now 
What it takes to make a mother cry 
You stupid boy 
So you remember now 
What it takes to make a woman cry 
You silly boy 

Can you imagine lyrics like that actually working? To quote Grant McLennan, "not in a dream but in a song"? In a song by a rock band? Sounding serious, convincing, almost heart-wrenching – and not pathetic or overblown?.. Enter “Honeymoon Is Over” by Whipping Boy. 

Whipping Boy’s second album being so high on my list should not come as a big surprise. Heartworm is often considered one of Ireland’s finest releases, and for a good reason. It’s a deeply passionate, often dramatic record with affecting, evocative lyrics, memorable tunes (sung in a keen, brooding baritone), and beautifully intense instrumentation. 

In fact, at some points Heartworm gets so dramatic that some people can’t resist comparing the band to U2. Fools! Bono would rather stick to the brittle, saccharine mellowness of “One” than show some talent and guts and come up with a song as powerful as “When We Were Young”. 

This record is intoxicating. And so inescapably catchy and engaging that I’ll have a hard time believing there are people who won’t fall in love with Heartworm over the course of the very first listen. Okay, so initially one might consider the opening “Twinkle” merely lovely – but surely the lyrics as well as the mind-blowing chorus of “When We Were Young” will do the trick?! If not – then that is what they call an ear disorder. But they keep delivering, and next comes the album’s highest point, the inescapable “Tripped” whose second part must be one of pop music’s most powerful moments – the energy level is simply exhilarating. In fact, I don’t find a single non-classic song here – even the half-spoken/half-sung kitchen sink drama of “We Don’t Need Nobody Else” is a complete triumph. And, of course, my personal favourite, the elegantly orchestrated ballad “Morning Rise” that works brilliantly as the album’s closer. 

I’ve also heard people calling this shoegaze. No way. Well, yes, there’s some colourful noise going on here on occasion. But that is a melody-creating sort of noise, it’s not simply about the sound or stylistic presentation. Heartworm  is about substance. 

Irishness. While Heartworm is a ten-track album, it in fact contains no less than 11 songs. “A Natural”, a beautiful narrated piece, comes as a sort of afterthought several seconds after “Morning Rise”. Anyway, the song his this very Irish clarinet that is interwoven into that lovely, lovely tune. 

RECOMMENDATIONS. I should say that up to the very last moment I’d been deciding which album is better – Heartworm or their posthumous self-titled release (2000). In the end I went for the more cohesive (and celebrated) Heartworm, but Whipping Boy is not to be missed either. Oh, and they also had a debut album called Submarine (1992), but that one sounds weak, unconvincing, and uninspired. Good they took 3 those years to deliver their masterpiece. It has paid off - if not commercially, then at least critically.

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