The Wonder Stuff
Escape from Rubbish Island
used to really dig the Wonder Stuff. Their first couple albums were killer, loaded with catchy three-minute punky guitar pop gems and deliciously snide lyrics, the sound of post-Oasis britpop at its best. Unfortunately, they were a few years too early, appearing at the height of the baggy era. After one decent single that attempted to adopt the predominant sounds of the day ("Circlesquare"), they turned their collective back on the whole thing and started incorporating folkier elements to a fine effect on 1991's Never Loved Elvis, widely considered the band's creative peak.
After the lacklustre follow-up, they split up and, apart from a few die-hards, weren't particularly missed. They seemed to have run their course, and certainly never struck me as a band with any sort of unfinished business. But lo and behold, last year saw the release of a whole new collection of Stuffie tunes from frontman Miles Hunt and original guitarist Malc Treece.
As an aging fan who's recently been finding myself more and more nostalgic for the sounds of my youth, I was intrigued, though hardly expecting much. And perhaps this is only a result of my low expectations, but gosh darn it, this album's pretty good. Certainly better than I'd hoped.
What stands out the most about Escape is the tone of Hunt's lyrics. He's clearly got a hard case of the older/wisers, and the gleeful misanthropy of the classic Stuffies has been replaced with a wistful air, filled with regrets, coulda-beens and shoulda-beens opined over lush big-ballad chord changes (though without the overwrought production to match). In fact, it sounds much more like a farewell album than a reunion, a bittersweet look back with longing. Had this come out in '94, it would have been a perfect break-up album (band, not girl). Could this be Hunt picking up the name for one last go-round, looking for closure that he never had?
(No, actually. According to the band's website, Hunt and Treece are currently working on songs for a follow-up. Still, it sure sounds that way.)
As for the music, it's fairly unspectacular, but it works for the songs, and is by no means a hindrance, nor a simple retread of their old sound. Gone are the folksy acoustic touches of their latter albums, and instead we get a sort of stripped down studio pop. But other than the occasional snazzy flourish (the organ stabs in "Head Count," the flamenco guitars in "Bile Chant") and a distractingly inappropriate mix (um, 'nuff bass there lads? We miss you more than ever, Rob Jones), the sound is largely unremarkable.
But overall it's pretty good, and nice to have the Stuffies back. Will anyone care? I do. That's something. Right?
Reviewed by: Bjorn Randolph
Reviewed on: 2005-08-04