Saturday, 12 February 2011
46 A Word To The Wise Guy - The Mighty Wah
Tracks : Yuh Learn I / Weekends / Everwanna / The Lost Generation / Yuh Learn II / I Know There Was Something / Yuh Learn III / In The Bleak Body And Soul Midwinter / Papa Crack / What's Happening Here / Yuh learn IV / Come Back
This was another purchase from the WH Smith cassette sale.
Now known as The Mighty Wah this was the group's second proper LP released on their new label Beggar's Banquet in the summer of 1984 following another Top 20 hit with "Come Back". Despite this it barely peaked above their hitless debut and the band were dropped once more. When Wlie re-surfaced on Siren in 1986 it was under his own name.
As evidenced by the Baconesque cover art this is a grandiose concept LP in which Wylie attempted to match Alan Bleasdale in conveying the sufferings of Liverpool in the eighties this time in music. Wylie himself has since referred to it as "Boys From The Blackstuff - The Musical".
Does it live up to that billing ? - well, not really. Even the duller bits of Blackstuff were still watchable -some of this is awful. And it starts off badly with "Yuh Learn I" the first of a four part pseudo-rap lecture that pops up like a bad smell throughout the album each time more annoying than the last. The rapper is one Eugene Lange whose similarity to Craig Charles is his only calling card. His state of the nation address is backed by a very aggravating drum machine and a frantic fretless bass from Washington. It's barely two minutes long but feels like at least twice that.
Thankfully it gives way to "Weekends" one of the better songs and the second single though not a hit. More pertinent now than then, it concerns proletarian dreams of celebrity and travel namechecking the razor-advertising Victor Khayam and Duran Duran. Musically it sounds a bit like U2 if Larry Mullen were replaced by a cheap metronome but the tune's pretty good even if Wylie's vocal is a bit screechy.
"Everwanna" falls into the oh-so-eighties trap of aping black soul music for greater "authenticity". So you get frantic gospel singers on an over-busy sub-Dexy's track with blaring horns and talk of "your turn to testify". I like Wylie's cheeky Lulu impersonation on the intro and Washington's bassline but otherwise it's a pretty hollow experience.
"The Lost Generation " is more interesting.After an Abba-ish intro the song harks back to "Seven Minutes To Midnight" in its pace and air of foreboding. Against galloping acoustic guitars and some nice descending keyboard parts Wylie sings of the disappointment of youthful hopes. The didactism gets a bit wearing - "don't stand by, don't ever close your eyes" but it's a decent tune.
Chairman Lange then gives us the benefit of further wisdom in "Yuh Learn II" castigating a conman (probably "Minister for Merseyside" Michael Heseltine) and drug dealers before aggressively shouting "Listen ! " to fade. We've bought the bloody album mate what do you think we're doing ?
This leads into the eight minutes of "I Know There Was Something" which starts off promisingly with its big chords, melodic bassline and icy Closer synth washes but soon becomes a dirge. The lyric seems to be based on the Michael Angelis / Julie Walters episode of Blackstuff with the bleak outlook taking it's toll on a relationship - "the bubble's burst why don't you blow another ?"
It's interesting territory but Wylie's tuneless bawling and an unlistenable passage of atonal piano and unintelligible muttering four minutes in just destroy it
Side Two begins with "Yuh Learn III" mercifully shorter than the other sections and ending with a pointless percussion break. This leads into the album's best song "In The Bleak Body And Soul Midwinter". A dense intro leads into a fast paced rock track led by Washington's bass. The simple melody is within Wylie's range so for once the backing singers seem like they're complimenting , rather than compensating for him. Being addressed to Josie Jones there's a welcome hint of optimism in the lyrics too.
Unfortunately we then have the near-seven minute blaxploitation pastiche "Papa Crack". It's a fairly obvious attempt to re-write Papa Was A Rolling Stone for the 80s and the wah-wah guitars and Isaac Hayes floating flute are all there but there's no song just one verse and then vague murmurings and chanting. It sounds much more like the uneasy funk experiments of late-period Jam than The Temptations.
"What's Happening Here " isn't much better with its pounding Northern Soul beat and obvious re-cycling of the keyboard melody from their earlier single "Remember". The lyrics are a stale re-tread of themes he's already done to death -"it hurts to be helpless" - and there's a serious risk of boredom setting in by this point.
So along comes "Yuh Learn IV" dressed up with some Arabian flute but still as painful as before only you know it's the last part and there's only the safe harbour of the single to come.
"Come Back" is subtitled "The Story Of The Reds" but it was actually originally written about the bust-up with WEA before it became a politicised plea to those seeking to escape the city. There's a line towards the end celebrating the antics of the opportunistic shyster Derek Hatton which Wylie must surely regret now. That doesn't spoil a fine song with a rousing chorus and a thrilling climactic keyboard break before the last chorus.
So it's not really a heroic failure , more a case of a moderate talent over-reaching itself and not having enough good songs to make it work.