Paper Heart’s closer ‘Nickajack’, at six and a half minutes, is a suitably big way to end a hugely ambitious debut album that does exactly what you’d expect and does it well, and as the song builds and the reverb guitars come to the fore in a wall of noise and solos; singer Jimmy Hunter’s vaguely Van Morrison rasp struggling to be heard, it’s difficult not to get caught up in it all, even if just for a moment.
Every now and again an album comes along that no matter how great it is will be largely overlooked. Think Dodgy’s Homegrown or The Go Team’s Thunder, Lightning, Strike, or perhaps more aptly the Black Crowes‘ Shake Your Money Maker. Existing outside of any fashion bubble or music scene, Paper Heart is at times a glorious throwback but means Hunter & The Bear are constantly swimming against the tide. Indeed, I was unaware of the band’s Newcastle connection until their raucous rocker ‘Renegade’ turned up in my inbox a couple of months ago. “Brought up on a heavy diet of Led Zep, Sabbath and Pink Floyd“, their bio is sooo rock, “[they] have supported Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and Simple Minds” and the London-based four-piece have already appeared on Vintage TV ffs. The Clapton and Floyd links are judicious though, particularly their hedonistic 70s heydays.
Never more so than at, paradoxically, the band’s most plaintive moments on ‘I Am What I Am’ when the craftsmanship of the songs is allowed to flourish or on the odd psychedelic interlude ‘IX’ with its backward guitars and background noises. While they strive to emulate The War On Drugs perhaps, or their earliest common ancestors, Creedence Clearwater Revival the band’s debut album often ends up sounding like a baby Springsteen but it’s a great blend of rock n’ roll nonetheless.
At its core Paper Heart is a people album. It’s an album of songs about our desires, dreams and shortcomings and the influences around us that make us who we are. Its trad scales and sentiments mean it isn’t for everyone, it’s not cool, but what’s not to like about the powerhouse riffs of opener ‘You Can Talk’ and ‘Who’s Gonna Hear You’ (although don’t be kidded into thinking it doesn’t have a killer arena size chorus along with its companion piece ‘DRK’) or the bluesy balladry of the title track.
But it’s the aforementioned ‘Renegade’ and Springsteen mentioning ‘Won’t You Ever Come Home’ that are the binary centrepieces of this album, the latter’s false ending and slow rebuild into the chorus is already classic Hunter & The Bear while ‘Renegade’’s thumping rhythms and accompanying guitar refrain is the most obvious nod to The Boss and bloody marvellous on the ear too.
Touted as the saviours of UK melodic rock, Paper Heart might not be the pure-distilled reimagining of the genre we may have hoped for but in the absence of any stiff competition, if it is to be saved, then why the hell not…
Paper Heart is out now