Owned since: 2020
Genre: Power-pop meets pub-rock
Where I bought it: Vinylspot Rotterdam
If there is a record of the UK punk-wave adjunct stuff that is known for one song, it is for sure this one. Because why yes, this is the one Whole Wide World was originally on. A near-football anthem of a slow build sing-along that sounds like the early Kinks on a depressive day and maybe one of the finest 3 minute guitar songs ever. Extremely simple chugging 3 chord riff, Wreckless Eric’s unsteady vocals about finding love and the switch from the slow guitar only start to when the band all slowly kicks in is so brilliant in it’s simplicity. (Pop-)Punk by the way of a pub-rock band which is pretty much where Wreckless Eric was born.
Wreckless was one of the first signees to the now legendary Stiff label, which also included Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and Nick Lowe which places it for sure in a lot more context. All four of these guys took the very British pub-rock sound, rudimentary but catchy rock and roll played faster than usual which led to the UK punk movement, and turned it into a career. Costello always was the one more in tune with the American audience, Ian Dury became a bit of a walking stereotype and Nick Lowe became the scene’s resident weirdo popsmith. Wreckless, on the other hand, stayed the closest to the whole pub-rock movement, his self-titled debut sounds like it could’ve been recorded at a bar’s Friday band night.
An infectious mix of a lot of styles, but mostly baked in glam rock’s more barebones effort (a Slade comes to mind) but also well adapted to break into Yakety Sax all of a sudden as on Rags and Tatters. It’s very much a record that has a very live feel to it. It’s all very diverse with songs reaching from the odd slow drudge, in a positive way, of waxworks to the near New York Dolls like Rough Kids. Even more with there being a lot of brass work all over this record. But mostly, this just gets by for me on it’s punk styling. While it’s a far cry (most of the time) from the aggressive first wave of British punk, this is very much in the same spirit. Eric is a pretty god-awful singer but his weird strained and uneven vocals are a perfect fit for a backing band that sounds like it can fall apart every minute. The brass work is loud and pretty atonal also, which honestly just fits in perfectly. It’s a lot like the albums artwork which has the song titles ‘scribbled’ on the back, being near unreadable in spots.
Whole Wide World opens up the B-side giving it a fair bit of breathing room before going into drunk mayhem again. Which honestly makes it stick out even more with how good of a song this is and the rest of the record, while very good, really does feel at odds with it. Followed by a return to the usual program with Rough Kids, which goes full on the brass section and Eric really laying into a piano which he would do a lot more for the follow up. Just full blown New York Dolls mayhem or a less controlled version of the Saints’s brass led punk classic Know Your Product. Another highlight of weird power-punky pop is There Isn’t Anything Else, which is by far the closest the band came to be true post-punk even if it sounds more like the bar band version of Magazine than anything
It’s all very tongue in cheek also, Wreckless might not be the best writer lyrically but he makes up for it with a very juvenile kind of humor. Like in Personal Hygiene
‘Push that pimple in the mirror
Scrub it and bathe it
With Old Spice and don’t scratch the eczema
Partly stifle your natural odor with underarm spray
Garnish your bottom with powder
Wipe it with paper’
Disgusting, but it works as a slow burn weird ballad that sounds like it’s falling apart everytime it tries a chord change. That is honestly where the whole charm of this record lies, the utter lack of professionalism. It’s just a bunch of not-very good musicians that have come up with a bunch of great songs and just blast through them because they feel like it. A lot of them sound a bit alike but who cares, honestly? It’s bratty, it’s uneven and for sure mostly just a lot of fun. Outside of Whole Wide World you are not getting a lot of little well cut pop gems here but for an album of just great weird punk spring-off pub-rock? Yeah, this is the one to seek out for sure.
Wreckless is still kicking around to this day and would improve on this record. I’m a big fan of his third record Big Smash! which will get covered some time in the next year(s) and he cleaned up his sound a fair bit, but never really letting the loose quality of it all go. He left Stiff after Big Smash on not-so-good terms and can now still found regularly touring the EU with his wife, and great alt-country artist in her own right, Amy Rigby. He also founded the great primitive garage rock trio The Len Bright Combo which released two great records in the 80’s
Whole Wide World keeps appearing in a lot of stuff and just endlessly gets covered. It does both in Stranger Than Fiction where Will Farell launches a version not too far removed from the original, which it later morphs into. Whole Wide World still is known as one of the best first wave ‘punk’ singles of the UK and tends to appear a lot on best of the 70’s songs. which honestly it belongs on. A rare classic from a album that is quite forgotten these days for, well, pretty understandable reasons.
Thoughtless Slootric: I just about lost it when the Yakety Sax kicked in. Wreckless Eric seems very enamored of using recognizable bits of cultural touchstones like Sax or Dry Bones. The music is up my avenue but the voice is not. Apparently some versions of the album were sped up, maybe the version I listened to was and that’s why? I don’t think so, but enthusiasm and charm carries this far.