Only a musician as innovative, mercurial, uncompromising, stubborn and erratic as Ginger could suffer from Difficult Second Album Syndrome after countless records and a quarter of a century in the business.
To rate Albion as just another solo effort in his extensive curriculum vitae is only telling half of the story, if even that. The odyssey starts in 2010, following the dissolution of his band The Wildhearts – cult favourites and Nineties chart-botherers – when he found himself playing guitar for Hanoi Rocks’ blond bombshell Michael Monroe. Despite successful tours and a warmly-received co-written album Sensory Overdrive, creative differences and managerial issues cast him into the musical wilderness alone. With no band, no direction and no means to provide for a family, the towel was close to hitting the ring. It seemed that wild hearts could be broken.
Then, like a three-forked bolt of lightning, came the concept of a triple album that would alter the course of Ginger’s career forever. Funded purely by donations from a fanbase who showed a loyalty beyond question (in an honest, warm and productive way, the sort often overshadowed today by uncomfortable, commercial, hashtagged dedication to people like Bieber and Cyrus), they broke the target within hours and eventually reached just short of 600 per cent over it. The resulting record – titled 555% in honour of the amount at which physical copies became unavailable – comprised three discs brimming with newfound hope, accepted happiness and soulful rejuvenation. Two more projects were later borne of PledgeMusic. The first, Hey! Hello!, was a pop-rock fiasco fronted by Victoria Liedtke with Ginger playing every instrument. The second was Mutation, a cathartic collaboration with other noisemongers that landed somewhere between Cardiacs and Napalm Death. Ginger was unreserved in his appreciation; the fans had come through in unprecedented ways, the proverbial middleman had been shot in the back of the head, and the light at the end of the tunnel was brighter than ever (and, fortunately, not an approaching subway train).
Albion, originally making like Mr J. Christ and arriving on a Christmas night, now sees a general release outside of the loyal hands of pledging fans fans (who, here, smashed the 400 per cent mark). Given the events of the past few years, this first release under the usual Ginger moniker since 555%, and the first featuring the house band assembled during those sessions, has a fair amount to live up to. Initial reaction was mixed – largely on the part of Ginger himself, absent for the mastering and unhappy with the finished product.
Where the triple album was challenging not for its sound (pristine and precise) but its sheer magnitude, Albion is testing for its lesser production and less subtle amalgamation of stylistic ideas. Ginger has never been one to be afraid of fucking around in terms of genre and audience perception – 1997’s Endless, Nameless springs to mind – and experimentation is inherent in most efforts that bear his insignia. Here, however, disparate components are often more pronounced, or at least more noticeable where they were once fluidly put together by the sonic seamster.
Still, the songwriting machine’s perennial ability to sculpt a moving melody from the hardest rock and most abstract shapes continues. Opening salvo ‘Drive’ is perhaps the best representative of this; tinny tones could never wholly distract from the evocative life affirmation buried in Stones-y grooves. Elsewhere there’s ‘Cambria’, an oddly effective mash of Hey! Hello! and Mutation, and ‘Grow A Pair’, an intense dance-rock affair haunted by Victoria’s dreamy vocal presence and cut with Ginger’s tongue-in-cheek lyrical banter (“I don’t want to be a dickhead all my life”). The more abstract, ethereal moments like ‘Order Of The Dog’ and the sublime voyage that is the self-titled finale track have their place, but Wildheart has always been dabbest-handed when armed with a chorus and bouncy riff. Thankfully, then, there’s the warm ‘Body Parts’ and dynamic ode to wanderlust ‘The Beat Goes On (Caledonia)’.
And so ends another step on Ginger’s loveably tumultuous, often volatile, refreshingly bittersweet and often transcendental musical journey. While many of the tracks on Albion require more evaluative listens than past glories have done, all are a testament to the singer’s creative inimitability, with a minimal amount of weaker moments simply serving to emphasise the others – songs of enduring, endearing quality.
7Andy McDonald's Score