Cliches & Conspiracies – Charred Hearts (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

The last few years have, for some very obvious reasons, been unusual times, particularly for anyone involved in anything of a creative and communal nature. But for all the hardship thrown up by Covid, the lockdowns and the isolation of recent times, there have been a few silver linings too, usually in the form of giving people a bit of breathing space and time for reflection. So what is a musician to do with such opportunities when they find themselves separated from live gigs, appreciative audiences and even their own bandmates?

In the case of Charred Hearts frontman Dermot Fuller, it gave him the time to look back through some old recordings and see if there was anything that would make a suitable release, something to keep the momentum going until they could tread the boards of the live circuit once more. So, with the production skills of Gus Gouldsbrough and David Marx employed to add only the briefest of tweaks and polish, the result is Cliches & Conspiracies: Live 2005.

Although it isn’t the most recent of recordings, it is still a perfect representation of what the band does and does brilliantly. Walking a fine line between raw-edged punk moves and more melodic grooves, they are both accessible and in-your-face, it’s a sonic dance that many of their peers never quite managed to pull off.

Opening salvo, Crash sets the scene perfectly, a tsunami of big chords and bigger beats, fist-punching vocal deliveries and squalling guitars. For me, it is songs like You’re Bringing Me Down which is the quintessential summation of the band’s sound, more akin to the early NYC punk scene where rock and roll was infused with anger, swagger and sonic adventure than the more art-school and then terrace anthem sounds of this side of the Atlantic. Similarly, Four More Years has echoes of vicious and visceral blues running through Pat Luszcz’s guitar work, hinting at a nod to the pre-punk, pub rock sound perhaps, only coming from a more extreme, less compromising place.

Loser, with its heavy Detroit garage band vibe, or perhaps a distant echo of their hometown of Swindon’s own industrial past channelled into music, is brash and to the point, and paves the way for the final song of the night, their own razor wire take on The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog.

In a way, it is a neat slice of nostalgia both because it is from a show sixteen years ago but also because some of the songs go back to the bands earliest days too. But it is also a perfect showcase of the band in action. The lineup may have changed since then but when you do get back out to one of their gigs, you will find that what you get, that signature blend of power and sonic poignancy, those bluesy undercurrents and scuzzy rock and roll vibes, all pushed through a punk prism, is exactly what this record was all about.

There is something about the sound of a live band firing on all cylinders, something about the raw, unadulterated energy being unleashed, the edge and euphoria of a time and a place, something that is often lost when such recordings are put through the studio process. But not here. If there is one word that springs to mind it is honesty. Cliches & Conspiracies is a real, as it happened, sonic document and the sound of an exciting live band going about the business of putting on a great live show.

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