Undesirables and Anarchists seems like the perfect title for anything this year. It just happens to be the name of the new 12-track album from The Little Wretches, a Pittsburgh-based rock outfit. Slamming together guitar-driven licks and dream-big lyrics, these rockers should expect to glean many new comrades in their musical battle. From the swift “Someday” to the fists-clenched “I Rather Would Go”, there’s no stopping this band.
Various band members have played in The Little Wretches for nearly 40 years, but the only constant has been singer and songwriter, Robert Wagner. His sharp songwriting skills come into play with each track. The one exception might be “Someday” as it comes across as a filler song, and just harmonizes the word ‘someday’. His storytelling is often reflective, and outward focused. Some of the common themes and tropes he uses involve looking forward, on in the case of the second track, “Poison”, picking up pieces, against the faint piano keys. Like John Cougar Mellencamp, I get the sense that Wagner’s Pittsburgh surroundings influence him a great deal.
In the song “I Rather Would Go” he sings learn how to hop a freight. The next song, “Do You Ever Mention My Name” the train or escape subject pops up again with the lines you better get off the tracks, here comes the train. In the final track, “Running (Was The Only Thing To Do) female vocalist Rosa Colucci takes the lead and sings all I wanted to do was heal…I wasn’t made of steel. Pittsburgh is nicknamed Steel City, of course, and Colucci’s voice and the accompanying wall-of-sound is another depiction of the band’s resilient feverish sound.
Wagner also touches on insecurities and missed opportunities. In “Almost Nightfall”, the lines I’m counting my quarters to see if I stack up…squander my wishes that way, the listener gets a closer look at Wagner. While his voice and delivery stays within the rock front man attitude, and the guitars and rhythm section smacks right into each other. A whisper of a harmonica threads itself through the song’s core. In “Give The Knife A Twist”, Wagner grumbles every broken dream gives the knife another twist. Wagner’s relentless guitar, constantly mirroring the punk and rock genres, consistently bolsters his words. As the songs progress, a greater sense of comradery emerges. Wagner’s sensitive side unfolds in the lovely “Morning”. I fell under your spell, I was beguiled, he sings, with a little less brash and more warmth.
The tale of hardworking and easy to picture subjects in “Who Is America” draws even more comparisons to Mellencamp and even folk rock. I like what Wagner and his brand of storytelling does – he keeps the listener guessing. Most of the songs capture a strong sense of a live show, a fiery gut punch. But songs like “Who Is America” and “Silence (Has Made A Liar Out Of Me)” sway the listener into different waters, and different types of stages. I think the band still captures that live sound in the studio, but it creates yet another dynamic destination.