Whipping Boy

Heartworm

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Released in the U.S. several months after the import, an annoying tendency of Columbia's that has earned the ire of British-music fans, Heartworm is an earth-shatteringly powerful experience from a previously unheralded band. Light years ahead of this Irish quartet's obscure, out of print debut, Submarine (in terms of production, scope, songwriting, and ability), this sophomore LP is no "slump." Instead, it's filled with tense guitars, on-the-brink anxiety, guts, passion, brains, and fantastic production by Wayne Livesey with mixing help from sharp-eared Bostonian Lou Giordano (who did Sugar's colossal Copper Blue and Beaster). From the gripping, cello-crying, opening moment of "Twinkle," Whipping Boy (not the early-'80s San Francisco hardcore band of the same name) puts the listener on notice that a topsy-turvy ride is coming, and all 11 songs deliver. "Twinkle" is the standout, the cliché of the chorus ("She's the only one for me") cleverly obfuscating rigid self-defilement and disillusionment. But the barking twin guitars of Ferghal McKee and Paul Page blow Heartworm into the stratosphere on each free moment, and McKee sings like a man coolly possessed, like a devil neatly stepping from the flames of such breakdowns as "We Don't Need Nobody Else" (in the belly of the beast of spousal violence) and the self-explanatory "The Honeymoon Is Over." Yet, for all this fierce determination, McKee and band are also capable of tenderness ("Morning Rise") and the comic wonder of existence ("Personality"). This LP is so f****** good, so unsettling and dangerous, yet beautiful and moving, that Whipping Boy should be headlining Lollapalooza instead of the weak, pathetic pretenders with all their hollow gestures we get every year. But maybe we can't handle the real thing.

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