WACO – Rock Spirit Absolute Joy: Album Review

Ten short, punchy, power-pop anthems from London’s Cosmic Punk favourites, WACO

Release Date:  2nd September 2022

Label: Venn Records

Formats: CD, Vinyl, Download, Streaming

For those unfamiliar with London’s Cosmic Punk favourites, let’s get the band’s name sorted first.  It’s pronounced “Way-co”, not “Wakko.”  Rock Spirit Absolute Joy is the band’s third album, following on from Deathless (2017) and Hope Rituals (2020) and, I’m pleased to announce, it’s wonderful.

WACO are: Jak Hutchcraft (vocals), Tom Pallot (guitar), James Robinson (guitar), Ian Crook (bass) and Craig Welsh (drums).  The various members hail originally from such diverse locations as Coventry and North Yorkshire but, happily, they all gravitated to London and, having identified a mutual love of clean, punk-infused power-pop, convened and combined to build the whirlwind that is WACO.

WACO pride themselves on the eclectic approach they take to their music.  Very little is out-of-bounds and Rock Spirit Absolute Joy takes in elements of psychedelia, prog, heavy metal, pop and even hints of folk and disco, to sit alongside the band’s basic staple of Jam-influenced power-pop.  And, to complete the picture, several of the songs on Rock Spirit Absolute Joy also include a healthy and welcome dose of humour, as we’ll see.

The album’s title – Rock Spirit Absolute Joy – is an inspirational one and it perfectly captures the emotions inspired by its contents.  The songs are, without exception, bright, punchy, tight and solid and Rock Spirit Absolute Joy is, indeed, a joyful – and highly refreshing – listening experience.  Vocalist Jak Hutchcraft explains further: “we got the title from one of our fans, Mary, who had written those four words in the comments section of one of our music videos.  It hit us like a ton of bricks.  She’d bookended the phrase with lighting bolt emojis and it resonated with us in ways I don’t think she anticipated.  With that in mind, we wrote these ten songs to celebrate life, communicate our emotions and be true to those four words and everything they meant.”

There is, however, a sad uncurrent to all this joy…  The album represents the continuation of mission, by WACO, of honouring the legacy of the band’s original bassist Chris Cowley, who passed away before the release of the Hope Rituals album.  Well, Chris:  the boys have done you proud.

It’s almost worth advising listeners to fasten their seatbelts as a pair of drumbeats from Welshy get opening track Millionaire off to a blistering start, to set a pace that rarely lets up for the full duration.  The tight and punchy pattern is established from the outset, and Jak demonstrates his full vocal range, from spoken word, via snarl, to unexpectedly melodic.  And I love the churning bass during the “Don’t you try to stop me” refrain!

The fast, chugging, riffy The World was the second single to be taken from the album.  The song is described as “… a treatise on looking out for your mates, telling them you are, and how we support each other through this journey we’re on,” and that message is delivered via a slice of glorious early 80s-flavoured power-pop.  It’s vibrant and infectious – a great song. 

The album’s first single, Elevation, is, if anything, even better!  A solid bassline provides the foundation to a poppy tune, laced with sparky guitar licks which, after an amazing fuzzy guitar interlude, goes for the jugular with a full-on punky assault.  Jak explains that the song “…ruminates on trying to live a healthy life whilst trapped in a sick society.  Trying to be the best ‘you’ in a turbulent sea of conflicting and disorientating information.  Governments and Corporations make money and maintain their power by stoking our fears and insecurities.  Division is big business.  In this setting, self-love, compassion and unity are forms of self-defence and rebellion.  And, certainly, those principal architects of our current state of dysfunctionality are brought firmly to account with lines like: “I need a break, reading the newspapers.  All they bring is bad news and ‘hate the neighbours’ “

The frantic pace lets up slightly for the dreamy Seventeen, a tune that verges on psychedelia – but without any compromise to the tightness or presence that are such strong features of the album.  The frustration of trying to make headway in today’s society is captured in lyrics like: “I’m never gonna settle down and live a life I don’t wanna” and “Let’s go steal a vehicle, and we’ll drive; I’ve got no direction – I just wanna survive.”

Current single, Barry Gibb Was My Landlord is, amazingly enough, a true story and is presented here as an ode to a highly-regarded icon.  Guitarist James Robertson takes up the story: “When I lived in Manchester, Barry Gibb made sure that the rent on the old Bee Gees childhood home was affordable for skint musicians.  In a cruel, capitalist world that stifles any creativity it can’t commercialise, it’s hard for an artist just to stay alive.  Barry is one of the good guys.  Cheers mate – we’ve put you on the guest list!”  And it’s another fantastic song that starts life as a slice of straight-ahead punk that develops into an engaging Half Man Half Biscuit-type yarn.

An intro drenched in guitar feedback succumbs to a feast of jangly guitars as Jak voices his ambitions for the world in the charming Better Place.  It’s another serving of punchy power-pop and, in true punk spirit, it’s the only song on this breezy album to break the 4’ barrier – and the song’s theme is crystalized  by Jak’s statement that “If we work together, we can make things much better.”  On a lighter-hearted note, the short, breathless, The New Wave of British Denim takes an affectionate swipe at the 80s NWOBHM phenomenon – by way of a short dose of thrash metal – before things become almost sticky and sentimental for the melodic Next Romance.  A standout track in more ways that one, the song features acoustic guitars(!) and would be a gentle love song if it wasn’t for the energy and the passion of Jak’s vocals.  Uncharacteristic, maybe, but excellent nevertheless.

WACO express a lesson that they learned in their very early days – that things seldom go to plan – in the album’s penultimate track, Hardships Will Happen.  It’s a fresh, powerful pop number, full of solid bass, crisp drums, chiming lead guitar and expressive vocals, and there’s always space in anyone’s collection for a combination like THAT!  And that brings us to Flip Forever, an enjoyable and powerful thrash to round off a truly excellent album.  There’s some nice, churning bass from Ian, a signature chugging guitar riff; Welshy delivers some marvelous drum fills and the lyrics – a contemplation on driving around the country to play to half-empty (or worse) halls, yet not wishing life to be any other way – capture the passion, honesty and humour that is such a consistent feature of Rock Spirit Absolute Joy.

Chris Cowley will rest happily, I’m sure.

And – if we’ve managed to whet your appetite such that you want to check out WACO for yourselves – you can, as well as checking out the album, catch them live at the following venues in the next few weeks:

7 September – Lancaster: The John O’Gaunt

8 September – Birmingham: Subside

9 September – Lowestoft: The Globe

10 September – St. Hellier (Jersey): Victoria Tavern

Watch the official video to Elevation – the first single to be taken from the album – here:

WACO online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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