When Scottish songwriter Gary McClure – nephew of Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame – released his eponymous American Wrestlers debut LP in the spring of 2015, the home recordings took lo-fi to a new, erm high, or at least a return to the days when home recordings were left only to satiate their creators creative tendencies. Nowadays, releasing your own home-made material is easier than slicing bread and from a quality perspective it doesn’t seem to matter if the finished article sounds like something your kid has just knocked up on a Casio keyboard.
This time around McClure has not been whisked away and left all alone. The previous effort was written, played, recorded and mixed by himself leaving little doubt that the recording was entirely his own. His wife – the fan he followed across the Atlantic (Bridgette Imperial) – now plays the keyboards though and there’s another two members as well, Ian Reitz (bass) and Josh Van Hoorebeke (drums).
To call second album Goodbye Terrible Youth top heavy is a fair reflection upon a first listen although several plays later you start to realise that to class it top heavy in the league of, say, Dolly Parton is a little extreme. The reason for the first impression, though, is that the opening two tracks are nothing short of superb. First up, Vote Thatcher is a sub-three minute piece of pop glory, the number bouncing along at foot-tapping pace, the title of which might mean more to election goers from the 1980s, its chorus incredulously declaring “still can’t believe you died” as if being some acknowledgement of the Iron Lady’s power during a number written about the legacy she left behind. Second song Give Up continues the brilliance, being another bouncy number that will surely be a single at some point, its jangly sound reminiscent of Cocteau Twins played at breakneck speed.
After the impressive first couple of tracks, things are looking incredibly rosy but then tracks three and four represent differing moments that lead to the first impression conclusion. So Long slows things down and fails to go anywhere of note, its chorus being particularly mediocre and then the earlier released Hello, Dear is another uninspiring three minutes, again having a chorus of little note to fall back on.
Thankfully, things pick up considerably once again for the gorgeous Amazing Grace that’s built around a repetitive piano riff, the title track then bursting into earshot with some spiky guitaring and the short but decent screeching guitar solo makes you wonder why the hell McClure doesn’t tap into this vein more often. Blind Shot races along at considerable speed once more as keyboards recall early Elvis Costello perhaps or other ’80s reference points such as J.Geils Band. The chorus from the excellent Someone Far Away, though, is probably one of the album’s biggest assets, again nodding firmly to something from the ’80s given a slight ’90s shoegaze sheen. Real People then sees out the album with some intricate guitar finger picking and stunning backdrop of emotion.
One of the biggest attractions of the debut was undoubtedly the lo-fi recording and the feeling that the “crazy crap” had, confirmed by McClure himself, been thrown together in a shed. Its loss is telling, the element of wonder at the basicness is replaced by improved quality and technique. But despite missing this quirky and cutesy loveable aspect that made the first album so intriguing, it’s hard to throw much criticism at Goodbye Terrible Youth. There are less memorable moments than the debut offered and nothing that particularly worms its way into your head like There’s No One Crying Over Me for instance, but it’s impressive enough all the same, just not quite as endearing.
So, all things considered, it’s another solid entry in McClure’s catalogue, a catalogue that looks set to increase again as early as next year with another bundle of material already forming in his head so American Wrestlers are looking like retaining considerable appeal for some time just yet, maybe – ahem – even more so than when the great Hulk Hogan was in the ring.