1986. Thatcher was Prime Minister, the Iran-Contra scandal was just kicking off over the pond, and the year’s best selling single was Don’t Leave Me This Way by The Communards. It was also the year that The Wonder Stuff formed.
It only seems right that The Wonder Stuff should be celebrating their 20th anniversary and still be recording, for it’s starting to become clear exactly how influential they were as echoes of their sound can be heard today in Kaiser Chiefs and Arctic Monkeys.
The 2006 line up may only have two original Stuffies these days in Miles Hunt and Malc Treece, but that doesn’t stop Suspended By Stars sounding like a ‘proper’ Wonder Stuff album. There’s elements from all moments of the band’s career here which turns out to be a bit of a double-edged sword – at best it can recall the joyful rush of Hup, but at other times the turgid rock of Construction For The Modern Idiot is brought to mind.
Tricks Of The Trade is a fine opening track, with a feel that could be described as ‘stadium indie’, for want of a better phrase. It sounds big, epic and passionate, but without the pomposity that they may imply. Similarly, Last Second Of The Minute is another anthemic number, with Hunt sounding in particularly fine voice here.
Say It Ain’t So is possibly the best track on the album, harking back to old school Stuffies with Hunt’s acerbic lyrics taking centre stage: “To all the bleeding hearts and their walk on parts, I had yer number from the start”. The Sun Goes Down On Manor Road meanwhile is more reflective but absolutely lovely – it certainly stands side by side alongside any of Hunt’s previous work.
Elsewhere, things aren’t so successful. We Hold Each Other Up is a dreary ballad, the sort that you could imagine the younger Hunt sneering at all those years ago, while Angelica Maybe, despite some superb violin playing from Erica Nockalls, goes on for far too long at over seven minutes. Additionally, the unmemorable No One Tells ‘Em Like You Do seems a bit of a flat way to end the album
Yet these are the only times that the album’s quality dips. The Popular Choice sees Hunt spraying vitriol on the herd-like mentality of the British public (“it’s right there in print, these must be our own views”) to superb effect, which effectively segues into the glorious adrenaline rush of Give Us What We Want.
They may never hit the glory days again, but it’s heartening to know that The Wonder Stuff have survived 20 years and are still able to release an album which stands up with their best work. Forget the so-called 80s Revival, Suspended By Stars is the sound of a band very much at home in today’s musical climate.