Perhaps one line out of all of the things I have read about Robert A. Wagner, the co-founder and mainstay of The Little Wretches, tells you everything you need to know about the man and the band that he leads. “Personally, I’m sick of Tom Joad.” As the son of Slovakian immigrants who came to America to make their fortune in the mining towns of Pennsylvania, he writes about the people he has lived his life surrounded by but rejects the traditional idea of the noble savage, the blameless, struggling victim who is always let down, always betrayed.
And such deeper and more realistic characters and creations, scenes and scenarios have always peopled The Little Wretches music as they evolved from folk-punk poeticism to low-slung rock and roll groovers. And the time has come for new life to be breathed into such people once more as Wagner raises a new version of the band for a tenth album, Undesirables & Anarchists.
Musically the album is a weave of their earlier punk urges and later more mature rock and roll moves, Robert’s great skill as a narrator of lives, not least of all his own, wit and wisdom, some cool musical moves and an addictive sense of pop-awareness.
Give The Knife A Twist is that blend of new wave pop and stadium ready rock, a place where brash guitars entwine around infectious melodies, Morning is a gorgeous cascade of deft electric-folk and pop gloss and All Of My Friends is a riot of attitude, swagger and lyrical outsiderness, a humorous side-swipe at the pit falls of non-conformity and a life-long membership to the odd-ball gang.
And proving that the fire still burns, Ballad of Johnny Blowtorch is one of those nostalgic back-street anthems which you might have heard emanating out of the back window of a trashy Lower East Side club in about 1978, 50% attitude, 40% punky, rock and roll and 20% school-skipping delinquency!
The Little Wretches’ fortunes have ebbed and flowed as time, tide and the natural changes and responsibilities of life took their toll. And whilst it was hardly the most unexpected idea that there might still be more musical chapters tone added to the story, few expected the latest plot twist to deliver an album so sparky, so full of attitude and energy and, perhaps most importantly, so bursting at the seams with great songs.