Review at TUNED LOUD--“UNDESIRABLES AND ANARCHISTS will make your head spin...

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Robert Wagner and the The Little Wretches built a strong cult-like fan-base in their prime years while going through diverse member changes and musical phases. The highly active collective flirted with national press, publicists and managers, before finally calling it quits. Assisted by the MTS Management Group, the freshly resurrected Robert Wagner and The Little Wretches are back with “Undesirables And Anarchists”, which now becomes their tenth official album release. 

A long-term cancer survivor, Robert Wagner – frontman, chief songwriter and lyricist for 80’s-90’s seminal Pittsburgh rock band, The Little Wretches – continues to perform at coffeehouses and small clubs. A Master’s Degree holder, Wagner also counsels abused, neglected, traumatized and court-adjudicated youth. He is the co-founder of The Calliope Acoustic Open Stage, an event that has lasted 15+ years. 

“Undesirables And Anarchists” sees Robert Wagner joined by Rosa Rocks (vocals) Mike Madden (drums), John Carson (bass) and HK Hilner (piano). The result is a collection of hard-hitting alternative rock songs, some of which were originally written all the way back in the late seventies and early eighties. The album itself was originally recorded in 2001 with producer Dave Granati (of The Granati Brothers). 

2021, which is all but upon us, will mark the 2oth anniversary of “Undesirables And Anarchists”, since it was first recorded, but five years short of a quarter-century hasn’t resulted in the album sounding aged at all, both in terms of relevance and production value. 

The album opens nonchalantly with the mellifluous tune “Silence (Has Made a Liar out of Me)”, which is just as indescribable as The Little Wretches’ artistic identity – languid yet rock steady, nostalgic and poignant, yet blunt and to the point. “When I don’t know what to do, I do nothing,” sings Wagner here. If you think rock n roll is music simply to pump your fist to with beer bottle in your hand, this stuff will make your head spin. 

Throughout this album, Robert Wagner’s every-man vocal anchors the soundscape, as it blends with Rosa Rocks harmonizing voice, to deliver choruses that are as supremely sing-along-able as anything you hear on rock radio right now…except the lyrics cut deeper, the guitars ring louder, and the arrangements are more expansive. 

From the opening track, The Little Wretches takes us through eleven more songs that go up and down effortlessly both in terms of momentum and intensity, with not a single weak spot in sight. The crunchy down strums of “Poison” steadfastly drives us towards the upbeat bounce of “Give the Knife a Twist (Early Lyrics Version)”, which eventually give in to mid-tempo shimmer of “(It Was) Almost Nightfall (Full Band Version)”. 

If you’re not a The Little Wretches fan by this point, your heart is probably locked into another genre. For the rest of us, there is still plenty to chew on. The soaring “I Rather Would Go”, the even faster “Don’t You Ever Mention My Name”, or the richly layered “Morning”. 

Song after song it becomes clearer that Robert Wagner and The Little Wretches had the freedom to do whatever they wanted in the studio, to let their creative process play itself out without the worry of corporate big shots stalking them. And things get even better, and busier on “Who is America (No Shelter Lyric Version)”, a little quaint on “Some Day (Vocal Fragment)”, and totally rocking on “All of My Friends (Full Band Version)” and “The Ballad of Johnny Blowtorch (Ambridge Version)”. 

The album closes with a gorgeous Chrissie Hynde-styled vocal on “Running (Rosa Rocks Version)”. Somehow this album flew under the radar on its initial release, but it is here that the true raw talent of Robert Wagner and The Little Wretches is most evident. Could it be that love is better the second time around? 

 

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