Finally stumbling off their on/off three year Glitter Band Indie Karaoke Christmas Tour, The Wonder Stuff return with "Escape From Rubbish Island", their first new album in over a decade, and a new lineup. Gone are the fiddles, the short trousers, and the joke pop songs : instead we see a new, grown-up version of The Wonder Stuff. But is it any good?
Overall yes. For some the new lineup (and the harder, more abrasive style) might not be reminiscent enough of the floppy-fringed, metal-monkey-machine-music, fraggle-pop, ten-legged-groove-machine (MTV, 1991) anthems of yore to satisfy. But it's not 1991 anymore, and it's still The Wonder Stuff. Just not quite the way you remember them. Everything evolves in time.
Imagine they'd never got fiddles, Vic Reeves comedy cover versions, and pith helmets and all that stuff. Imagine they'd carried on with the four-piece rock of their debut album : this is what they'd sound like now.
"Escape From Rubbish Island...." then is a return to the sort of punchy, crunchy, acid-tongued bile that characterised their original, and some would say best, lineup. The raw songwriting style dispenses with the jokes and the flourishes in favour of a brace of wittily furious, biting new songs. Some of the songs are slower, the arrangements more involved, more mature. But maturity is no bad thing.
Fiddle player Martin Bell and drummer Martin Gilks are absent : (according to some dark rumour they refused to record new material) but this record does not suffer from their absence. No band stays the same for twenty years, nor does a good band write the same type of songs for it's whole career. Things move on. People change. And the world changes around us.
A lot of The Stuffies trademarks are here : crunchy guitars, acid lyrics, bile in spades (one song is even called "Bile Chant", which probably won't trouble the top five in a hurry), and great songs. The problem is that people will probably lambast the band for ditching The Magic Formula of 1991 and trying something different. The same Magic Formula that sees them saying "I preferred their earlier stuff before Fiddly joined" yet also sees them distrustful of this new, fiddleless rock approach. Some people fear change. Some people are never satisfied. Go back to the past for the future is coming.
If The Wonder Stuff had been making albums in the past eleven years, the raw, uncluttered songwriting style, and the lineup changes would've gone unnoticed. And nobody complains when most bands evolve over time. (In fact, for The Cult and The Cure, lineup changes are practically mandatory).
The biggest change is in the production. Since the recording sees the blooding of a new lineup, the record lacks the cohesive sense of a full, vibrant band playing together. Recent live shows and radio sessions have rectified this, but on this recording the band sound - only slightly - tentative.
Controversy has raged as to wether this is "The Wonder Stuff" or not. And the simple fact is that it is : it's not the same band that you may be familiar with, some of the faces may have changed, but the songs and the attitude are still the same.
The tangible X-Factor that characterises The Wonder Stuff is still here. It's still The Wonder Stuff, alright. Just maybe not quite the way you remember them. But that was then, this is now. Right here, right now. There is no place I'd rather be.