When was the last time a bunch of 30 somethings from Dublin made an album truly worthy of critical acclaim? If you’re U2, with the world at your feet and the critics slaveringly over every move, then actual artistic merit doesn’t matter, because they know it sells copies of Q. Somewhere though lies this neglected album, forever in the shadow of its stadium-filling counterparts.
Musically it fits somewhere between “the Bends” and “Achtung Baby”, yet if Sony had hung onto them and they had a pretty boy frontman, they could easily have been a match for the Stereophonics or Travis, to whom they share similar (alas superficial) territory. The comparisons end there though: whereas Travis and the Shiteophonics have only ever been plodding workaholic 3 chord pub rock, Whipping Boy inhabit the same arena with intelligence, melody and challenge. Their long deleted debut album (before “Heartworm”), which apparently sounded like My Bloody Valentine meets J&MC gave a pointer on how to mix this with pop sensibilities. Tales of domestic violence and growing up in the 80’s mix with melody and atonal melodic noise. From the lilting violin strains of the opening “Twinkle” to the closing paen to the schizophrenic moodswings within everyone (“A Natural”) this album was easily overlooked in the 1995 post-Britpop Blur-Manics-Oasis-moronithon. The shame is, that this album beats all 3 of those hands down. A mix of instrumentation: acoustic guitars, white noise blinding guitars, soothing strings and a bittersweet lyricist in the acute storytelling Feargal Macghee. From the lyricism of Users (“Remember how not long ago/ we screwed away the pain”) or the blatant confessionalism of “We Don’t need Nobody Else” (“I hit you for the first time today, I didn’t mean it, it just happened”), this owes as much to the Tindersticks or Nick Cave as it does to Radiohead, yet somehow set into pop sensibiltiies without losing any of its essential miserablism or melancholy. Yet somehow within there is an air of celebration, of jubilation, in the thorough mundanity of modern living, yet in a way that lacks the clanging blatantness or patronisation of the Manics , or vacous mumblings of a Kelly Jones.
Put simply, this album is an album out of time – 3 or 4 years later, it may well have reaped the praise and millions it deserved. In the meantime, they carry on, and yet, with U2 remain talking loud and saying nothing, a band whose later works pale by comparison to the elegance and beauty of this album. Whipping Boy may be regaled to the “who”? books of history, but truly speaking, they should never have been in the shadow of U2 anyway. Whereas U2 seems to have been stuck in the same creative rut for a long time now, this isn’t; If anything, the only thing this band did wrong was release this 6 months after “The Bends”, which stole the thunder and plaudits this deserved. Had “The Bends” been released after this album, things could have been very different, because this album is every little bit the equal of that Radiohead masterpiece. People bought that in the droves…and ignored this. In a fair world, that would never have happened.
9Graham Reed's Score