Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is ‘Heartworm’ by Irish band Whipping Boy.
The perennial underdogs of Irish music, Whipping Boy are the kind of band you can’t help but love. Though immensely talented, a combination of record label difficulties, creative differences, substance abuse and mental problems meant they never reached the heights their talent warranted. But in spite of all the turbulence they still managed to record ‘Heartworm’; a dark and brooding masterpiece that easily ranks amongst the greatest Irish albums ever recorded.
Realised in 1995, the three singles this album produced alone make it an essential listen. First came Twinkle; a song that flows perfectly from its cello laden intro to its guitar driven crescendo. Lyrically the song describes the ‘flaws’ of the female disposition, the gorgeous chorus of “She’s the only one for me/Now and always” suggesting, though, that the singer’s relationship with womanhood is one of love/hate. This is in essence the theme that dominates the album; the volatile, complicated relationship between man and woman
It’s a theme that re-appears in somewhat controversial fashion on We Don’t Need Nobody Else, the second single from the album. A sparse, mostly spoken word number, it’s the painfully shocking lyrics that earned this song its notoriety. “I hit you for the first time today/I didn’t mean to/It just happened” singer Fearghal McKee laments. The band’s best song, the media furore surrounding its subject matter meant it didn’t get the airplay it deserved.
When We Were Young completed the hat-trick of singles; a nostalgic look at growing up in the ’80’s. The anthemic chorus reads like an extract from a Roddy Doyle book with McKee singing of flagons, shifting women and rubber Johnnies. All delivered in a think Dublin brogue, to anyone not born in Ireland it probably made no sense, but that only adds to the songs brilliance.
The rest of the album more than matches the quality of the singles, the band moving from abrasive guitar heavy numbers Tripped, Users to moments of subtle calm Morning Rise, A Natural. They even fit in a straight up pop song with Blinded, a track that really should have been released as a single. Throughout, McKee is the star of the show, as good a lyricist as this country has ever produced he lays his soul bare tackling subjects as morose as domestic violence and mental health.
Lauded by critics upon release ‘Heartworm’ was for the most part ignored by the public. It was simply a case of wrong place, wrong time for Whipping Boy. Arriving just as Britpop was about to explode, this album’s dark energy didn’t sit well with the ‘mad for it’ vibe of Oasis, Blur et al. The lack of commercial success hit the band hard; with a prolonged period of inactivity leading to the band parting ways in 1998. They quickly regrouped, with a new album arriving in 2000. With Ireland experiencing a period of unprecedented economic prosperity, their cynical outlook seemed more foreign than ever and the comeback was duly ignored. More break-ups and reconciliations would follow but mainstream acceptance never came, their career proving that talent doesn’t always equate to record sales. But while Whipping Boy wilted over time, their magnum opus has not. ‘Heartworm’ sounds as fresh today as when it was released. A stunning album and one that deserves a place in every Irish music fans collection.
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