Wheatus is one of those bands which continually has the shadow of their greatest/memorable hit looming over their subsequent songs and releases in the gaze of those outside of their potent fanbase, and like many it is an unavoidable shame as they certainly have much more to them than the raging success of one song, as shown upon new album The Valentine LP. Teenage Dirtbag for a great many will always be the sign post for the band but the ten tracks making up the new release stand as a clear creative marker, as so many tracks across their previous releases, to the greater strength and adventurous depths of the potent songwriting of the band.
The first full length release since TooSoonMonsoon of 2005, though there have been the Pop, Songs & Death: Vol. 1 – The Lightning and the Pop, Songs & Death: Vol. 2 – The Jupiter EPs of 2009 and 10 respectively, The Valentine LP takes thoughts and senses on a warm and evocative ride through melodic and expressive imagination. It takes mere moments for opener The Fall In Love to draw out full attention, the metronomic beats of Kevin Garcia a persistent lure behind the coarse touch of guitar and the provocative bass. The distinctive vocals of Brendan B Brown as expected lay down the narrative and heart of the song with expressive style whilst the backing vocals of Gabrielle Sterbenz and Karlie Bruce offer a wash of sunlit harmonies to warm up further the pleasing temptation of the song as the keys of Mark Palmer dance around and court the ear with additional enticing splendour.
It is a strong start soon surpassed by Fourteen and Holiday, the first immediately catching the ear with the raw scuzz lined call of the guitars of Brown and bass prowl of Matthew Milligan before once again the vocal combination spark up the emotions and pleasure, whilst its successor is a vibrant pop rock flame that ebbs and flows with restraint and unbridled fun linked as tightly together as the melodic shimmer and sinew bursting bass are whilst being egged on by the deeper voiced keys of on this track Ken Flagg. It is a tantalising song which casts essences of the band’s debut upon the awareness of the world into their now firm songwriting maturity.
Break It Don’t Buy It keeps the brewed heights of the record washing eagerly over the ear, its sultry and exotic suggestiveness a magnificent companion to the lively and contented stroll of the song. Once again the whole vocal aspect is as infectious as the sound but undoubtedly it is the ehru provided by Jack Hsu from The Hsu-nami which steals the honours and elevates the song into another sphere.
The next up title track is a smouldering caress with the ever striking and provocative discordantly attitude guitar and bass sound providing a potently hued canvas for the vocals and the combined keys of Flagg and Michael Bellar to colour its heart. It enchants and absorbs thoughts throughout, even if it lacks the final temptress glaze of the previous songs, whilst the excellent Mary Mary Sea Serpent evokes emotions with a soulful and passionate embrace. Such the strength of song lyrically and in delivery you sense there is a rich and deep personal element to the composition which only increases its captivating persuasion.
Marigold Girl is another highlight, its again smouldering seduction bringing the prime Wheatus sound into a flourish of melodic and slight post punk discordance across the guitars and keys. There is also an open Beatles breath, to the chorus especially, that works depending on your appetite for such things but to be fair only flavours further an already enchanting and thrilling suasion.
The bedlamic opening to Lady Adelaide wets the appetite for the song ahead, its teasing mesh of noise and unbalanced energy a scintillating hook into a song which continues to allow the ‘chaos’ to share its glory amongst the melodic haze of energy and imagination. It is the least accessible track on the album but the most thrilling and ingenious with distortion and discord the perfect playmates for track and passions.
The Valentine LP is completed by firstly That’s True, a tender ballad sculpted by acoustic guitar and stalked by the brilliant rhythmic insistent alchemy of Garcia. If the track had stayed this way throughout it would have been a pinnacle on the album but with the additional adventurous twists of bass and harmonies alone it rises to another level. It is followed by Love Is Too Expensive, a closing fire of a pop song with again enterprise in its construction and direction. It completes a strong and pleasing album though it also adds a little irony in that as great as the release is it fails to ignite enough fires inside the passions to be a major triumph which suggests maybe the band has been overtaken by others openly inspired by Wheatus, such as the excellent Late Cambrian whose vocalist/guitarist John N Wlaysewski provides a sizzling solo on the concluding song. The Valentine LP is without doubt though a richly satisfying release and one which inspires plenty of wishes to return again and again to its body.
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