The Wonder Stuff- Escape From Rubbish Island (Reincarnate)- release date 3.22.05
review by Joe del Tufo

Track Listing

1. Escape From Rubbish Island
2. Bile Chant
3. Better Get Ready For A Fist Fight
4. Another Comic Tragedy
5. Was I Meant To Be Sorry?
6. Head Count
7. You Don't Know Who....
8. Back To Work
9. One Step At A Time
10. Loves Ltd

The evolution of Miles Hunt has been much more theoretical than actual. From his early days leading the post punk Wonder Stuff, complete with Manic Street Preachers-esque mantras and social agendas, through their poppier (self-proclaimed sellout) years, a solo career complete with a seemingly perpetual U.S. acoustic tour, and finally back again with a reinvented version of the band that started it all. Through all of this flux, at its heart, whether the guitars be raging and fuzzed out, jangly and acoustic, the tunes are very much what they have always been. And this is a good thing.

After peaking with Never Loved Elvis, a release which finally brought them due attention in the U.S., the Wonder Stuff called it a day. Miles went on to create several criminally underappreciated solo albums- Hairy On The Inside and The Miles Hunt Club, and embarked on exhaustive small venue acoustic tours in Europe and the US. Musically he was still doing much of the same stuff- writing bitingly catchy, lyrically witty and/or acerbic pop/rock tracks.

Inspired in part by their triumphant live return in 2001, documented on the double live Cursed With Insincerity and a live DVD, the Stuffies decided to return in proper in 2004. The only members from the previous incarnation of the band are Miles and guitarist Malcolm Treece. Hunt quips “It's taken a line up change, not our first admittedly, but when it comes to getting a record right, a band has gotta do what a band has gotta do.”

And this brings us to the present, and Rubbish Island. Largely inspired by the Iraq war and Hunt’s perceived political disempowerment at the hands of the current British government, Rubbish Island arrives as two fists swinging, having been skinned to the bone. From the lyrics, I take it that Miles is having some beef with both the political and social aspects of living in Great Britain, and I’m loathe to inform him that it ain’t much better here.

Lyrically Miles’ lyrics have typically been in discord with the songs they represent. Like biting into a candy bar and finding rusty nails. On the title track, Escape From Rubbish Island we are treated to one of the catchier and more upbeat melodies on the disc, but lyrically it’s a whole other matter. The title track shares these lines “The methods change I don’t care what’s hip- Just get me off this sinking ship- As a citizen of a broken home- I’ll take my chances on my own” and “These aren’t religious men- And more than I am- A cross of convenience- Covers their deviance.” Below the surface, it’s clear that Miles is dealing as much with the personal revolution than with the political one. From the closing track Loves Ltd we get “I just got this feeling around you- I don’t know which way to break- I just hit that ceiling I’d allowed you- Gotta wrap it up and calm my belly full of hate.”

Miles has always known how to write a catchy rock song, and Rubbish Island is no exception. In addition to the title track, Bile Chant recalls the Hup era Wonder Stuff with its jangly guitar and aggressive bass. “You get outta my way, or I’ll slap you down, slap you down, slap you down.” Them’s fightin’ words, Milo… And this is followed by Better Get Ready For A Fist Fight! Another Comic Tragedy is a simple, infectious pop song wrapped around a lyrically painful breakup. It’s a track that would have fit well in the Never Loved Elvis era, and is certainly on of the stronger tracks on Rubbish Island.  Another highlight is the anthemic You Don’t Know Who which reveals a heretofore unexplored side of the band.  In an alternate universe it’s possible this is exactly where the Wonder Stuff would have ended up- with soaring, guitar-driven anthems that have “You Don’t Know Who You’re Fucking With” at their hearts.  Again, not a bad thing.

At the end of the umpteenth listen, this disc is both something of an evolution and return to form for the Wonder Stuff. On one hand, there is clearly more depth and range than Miles’ solo work. Also, there is a sense of immediacy that was missing from the more recent efforts. In any case, it’s sure good to hear them again. It’s been a decade since the Wonder Stuff last graced these shores as a proper band. I’m both curious and excited to see what they will bring when they return in April. If Rubbish Island is any indication, it won’t be the same happy friendly group of so-called sellouts we saw last time around.

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