JULY ALBUM OF THE MONTH
Well, well, well – for those that thought the band’s 2016 album ‘Welcome To The World’ couldn’t be topped, Massive Wagons return with a double-barrelled rock‘n’roll assault on the senses: visceral, direct, original and heartfelt. Blowing away bands that write music which sounds like a homage to classic rock heroes, here is a body of work from a band writing original material that could only be their own. Fresh, alive and with a lingering bite, Massive Wagons have raised the bar on their previous releases and with Full Nelson they produce the calling card that may well be remembered as marking their arrival into the music mainstream.
In some respects, the album continues from where ‘Welcome To The World’ left off. The enormous magnetism of ‘Tokyo’ and ‘Ratio’ established the band’s skill for crafting exceptional radio singles – songs with the power to cut through, arrest and endure. The release of ‘Back To The Stack’ confirmed the band’s knack for writing fantastic pop songs done the heavy rock way – and pop song referred to here as a compliment. Throughout rock’n’roll history, the great bands have often been those that knew how to bottle a four minute radio hit rather than just call a shorter album track a ‘single.’
‘Under No Illusion’ opens the album – a song that had the tough job of announcing Massive Wagons’ return after the huge success of their previous release. Whilst not a Ratio, the song is, in its own right, a classic rock anthem for the modern age; it’s dynamic on stage and the accompanying music video represents yet another step up for the band. A song that actually works better and really comes alive through the video treatment.
The following singles ‘China Plates’ and ‘Billy Balloon Head’ to me really personify the magic of the new album. Musically exciting, lyrically great fun – songs that really capture the excitement of a band on the rise and comfortable with who they are and what they are about. In these songs Massive Wagons prove that their ability to write great radio songs on the last album was no fluke. In fact they have taken the winning formula further and are now crafting songs that could only be their own. Think Bowie, think Queen, think Quo, think Billy Joel – whatever one’s musical taste, the art form of creating an unmistakable signature sound is important for being relatively rare. And Wagons deliver here in spades.
A further point on this opening trilogy of tracks from ‘Full Nelson’ – two of them have become more than just songs on my Friday rock show – they’ve become events. ‘Under No Illusion’ has snowballed into a weekly listener signing competition, whereas ‘China Plates’ has become the staple call-and-response and ‘thank you’ to the show’s weekly social media followers. The point here, you can’t manufacture this – it just happens. The warmth and immediacy with which people from very different walks of life have taken these songs to their hearts suggests something very special is about to happen with the next chapter of the Massive Wagons story.
With both ‘Sunshine Smile’ and ‘Robot’ the band gives a nod to its varied and eclectic musical influences, songs that are cleverly crafted and combine well Barry Mill’s talent for original lyrics and Adam Thistlethwaite’s keen eye for melody and songcraft. A powerful writing combination and based on the material on ‘Full Nelson,’ the band has raised its game in every department.
The standout album track for me is ‘Northern Boy.’ For those fans that fondly remember the complete change of direction that ‘The Day We Fell’ delivered on the last Wagons album, this song takes the mood and heart of the album into a new place. A perfect antidote to the bouncy feel-good party tunes, here’s a song that showcases the band’s ability for rolling up their sleeves and writing a song of real depth and poignancy. It’s a new opus from the band, it feels like a song about home – delivered with northern heart, honesty and integrity.
Next up – ‘Hate Me’ and ‘Last to Know.’ Whilst many album reviews are about the ‘tunes’ – a monumental characteristic of ‘Full Nelson’ is the power of the words. To those that have seen Massive Wagons live, Barry Mills will be known to many as the energetic figure jumping around onstage, with his signature bowler hat and mic stand. This album showcases his real talent and craft as a lyricist. So often with esteemed lyricists there’s a focus on how clever or cryptic the words are, but sometimes the real and the heartfelt matters more. Here we have a man who writes about what he sees in the world around him, observations on people, on social habits – even comment on the world of social media. There’s more than a touch of Springsteen in the importance of the words on this album – and like Springsteen, Mills writes words with an originality and panache that frame the music with real personality.
The run of new songs closes with ‘Ballad of Verdun Hayes’ – a real story on a real hero from a band in touch with their community. Real grounded people writing about real stories: local heroes, real people, observations from the real world – delivered with northern honestly and lyrical imagination.
After 10 new songs, the album closes with two classics from the last album ‘Ratio’ and ‘Tokyo.’ Whilst ‘Ratio’ stands as a should-have-been global hit before its time and both songs offer a bonus for new fans of the band – in truth, their place is not even needed on the new album. Such is the strength of the new material, its forward looking agenda making the new collection of material more than a match for anything from the archive.
‘Full Nelson’ is still a few weeks away from release, but the number of tracks flying around Spotify – and the amount of chat of social media – makes an early review of the album seem timely. We’ve playlisted our very own Full Nelson medley for the next four weeks on air.
‘Full Nelson’ marks a collection of songs for the underdog, for everyday people, from a band on the rise. I’ve heard a few people recently describe the Wagons as a ‘cult’ band – a word I’ve seen used in the past for that handful of bands whose rise is earned, grassroots and real – and doesn’t rely on invented hype from the media marketing machine. And hard work it has been but the band’s signing to Earache Records proves beyond doubt that talent backed by hard graft pays off. Eight years on and the no frills, hard-working band – people true to their craft and true to their audience – have become, at this moment, the most interesting, fresh and relevant band of any generation in British rock n roll today.
Full Nelson is released on 10 August:
Pre-order ‘Full Nelson’ on all formats here: http://smarturl.it/fullnelson
Listen again: Feature interview with Barry and Alex on Full Nelson
For more information on the band visit www.massivewagons.com