Whipping Boy – Heartworm: A Personal Reflection
by Killian Laher
Whipping Boy’s second album has received the long-overdue reissue treatment, just missing the 25th anniversary by 9 months or so. So what is it that makes some people so excited about the reissue of an old favourite? There are many reasons, maybe you’ve worn out your original copy, maybe you want a ‘better’ version, or maybe you just want to support the band. In this case, I decided to take a trip down memory lane.
I remember when I first heard Whipping Boy. It was the summer of 1995. The music world was still reeling (to a degree) from the death of Kurt Cobain, an event that put the nail in the grunge coffin. What passed for alternative music at that time was more accessible, with the likes of Oasis, Blur and the so-called Britpop movement doing the rounds on the Dave Fanning show (on RTE 2fm) and MTV (back when they played music videos!). It was a ‘fun’ kind of music but not challenging or visceral in the way that noisier music had been in the early part of the nineties. I hadn’t heard Whipping Boy’s debut album, Submarine, which had come out a few years previously, it passed me by but in the summer of 1995 Whipping Boy released a single entitled Twinkle. I don’t exactly remember the first time I heard it, my own life was complicated at the time, but I do remember thinking there was something there, something I hadn’t heard in a few years. Singer Fearghal McKee’s malevolent snarl sounded like a bit of a throwback to the deep-voiced vocalist I favoured in the late eighties, almost like Andrew Eldritch crossed with Lou Reed. Not that he sounds like either of those, but there was a shared attitude which made me sit up and take notice. And he said ‘fuck’ in the second verse, which wasn’t done much at that time, and was certainly something to be admired. Then I noticed Paul Page’s searing guitar playing, propelling the verse along before belting into the chorus, A damn good combination, and one definitely to be taped off the radio.
A couple of months later they released a second song from the upcoming Heartworm album, We Don’t Need Nobody Else. On first listen, it seemed slower and moodier, McKee spitting out sarcastic lyrics about the omnipresent Bono in the first verse before the shocking incident recounted in the second verse, delivered with such deadpan detail that you felt ‘this probably happened’. And a chorus – what a chorus, one of pure defiance as McKee sings “We don’t need nobody else, just you and me” over Paul Page’s roaring guitars. Now I was really paying attention, as was the UK music scene, with write ups in NME and Melody Maker (which got my vote over the U2-centric Hot Press). The weather worsened, the days grew shorter and nights longer, which suited Whipping Boy’s music. Around this time the band appeared on Later with Jools Holland, long before this show became tiresome, but excitingly they also did a Fanning Session where they played a couple of songs from the forthcoming album. These songs sounded excellent, dark as fuck with great melodies. It was clear now this was something more than a random Irish band popping up with a couple of good songs, so I had to get the album.
The album itself? Have to say it was an instant favourite. As well as the previously mentioned songs, the anthemic When We Were Young stood out. It was just so Dublin, a tale of flagons, shifting women and rubber johnnies. Nobody else was singing about things like these. Even better were tracks like Tripped and The Honeymoon Is Over, which dialled the intensity down a little to ‘creeping and brooding’, which just made me like them more. The former ended with McKee menacingly whispering “you know you were the only one” which still sounds unbelievably good to this day. The lush and languid Personality drifted along with Page’s gorgeous guitar playing complementing McKee’s tale about Koo Stark (too complicated to explain her here), what the fantastic thing about the female is (listen to it) and JJ Smyths, spoke/sung in that incredible voice, full of real character. I had never been to JJ Smyths but I knew then that I wanted to go there. The final track Morning Rise is one of the quieter ones, featuring strings but again that thing that lives right across this album… defiance. The track ends after 5 minutes or so with a flourish from the strings… but back then what was greatly in vogue on CD was the hidden track. After a bit of silence the music started up again with another gorgeous piece of music, A Natural. This one features some almost orchestral sounds and some extraordinary lyrics once again from Fearghal McKee, which I can’t say I really understood but the combination of the music with the way McKee spoke them was just haunting, they just sounded really significant.
As I said earlier life was complicated for me back then so it wasn’t easy to track them down live. I did catch them on the Rollercoaster tour with Revelino in Dublin in early 1996, which didn’t disappoint, and then much later in 2006 (which did, a little). The band didn’t last much beyond this album, there was a follow up album, a split, some reunion gigs but it seems to be put to bed now, certainly if you ask guitarist Paul Page. The reissue is definitely worth getting, there is a second disc (or two in the case of vinyl) with some associated B-sides and early versions, all of which are excellent (especially the dramatic, crashing Disappointed). It’s an album to own and cherish, and no exaggeration to say, one of the best Irish albums of all time. I didn’t think about 2021 in 1995, or wonder if I’d be listening to Heartworm years later. I’m glad the album exists and I’d love to be in the shoes of someone discovering it for the first time.
Whipping Boy’s second album, Heartworm is re-released on September 3rd
Categories: Album Reviews, Header, Music
Very enjoyable piece, I saw many memorable Whipping Boy gigs – most notably one in the Newpark Inn, Kilkenny in 1991.
This reissue doesn’t include the following:
Twinkle (US Radio Edit)
Twinkle (UK Radio Edit)
We Don’t Need Nobody Else (Radio Edit)
Here I Am
Favourite Sister (Live)
The Honeymoon Is Over (Live)
Can’t help feeling that this is a bit underwhelming. I get the impression that it’s being dictated by vinyl running times (like the Neneh Cherry Raw Like Sushi reissue) instead of using the maximum space that two CDs can hold. A lot of the reaction to the reissue seemed to be people who just wanted to say that they would finally own an affordable copy of the LP. Possibly easy for me to say as I only paid £7.99 for my blue vinyl Heartworm in 1995 but I feel there’s a missed opportunity here. A better solution would have been a properly-filled 2CD reissue with a straightforward 10 track vinyl repress (with no bonus material).
Nice one Killian, a great read 👏
Great article about a wonderful, unforgettable piece of art.