Heartbreaker: A review of Valor Del Corazón by Ginger

Valor Del Corazón by GingerDown the decades, entire libraries’ worth of words have been written about rock ‘n’ roll’s life-affirming properties.

I’ve read some of it. I’ve enjoyed some of it. But I’ve also yet to read a single line that sums it up better than the closing line of Valor Del Corazón, the first fully-fledged solo album from Ginger, creator and creative of The Wildhearts, whose last proper long player, 2003’s The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed!, sounded like the work of a band who’d found something approaching contentment for the first time in their 14-year history.

Unfortunately, the following year Ginger watched his life fall apart around him. An open letter to fans on The Wildhearts’ website detailed the horrors he’d been through. It was a messy, tragic story, at the root of which was a failed relationship. It appeared that everything that followed was an attempt to escape the sadness he felt, and nothing worked – until he hooked up with producer and friend Ralph Jezzard to begin work on what was to become Valor Del Corazón.

When it comes to catharsis, Ginger’s a past master. It defines his best work, from 29 x The Pain to The Monkey Zoo – songs that connect on a level beyond ‘nice tune’ or ‘great riff’; songs that look forward by seeming to completely understand the past; songs that are deeply personal yet pleasingly universal. This is why I’ve high hopes for this new album adding a handful of songs to the ‘most celebrated’ list. I can’t imagine anyone listening and not feeling elated by its unedited purity and strength of heart, which is astonishing considering how much heartbreak led to its creation.

The temptation to call Valor Del Corazón a concept album is overwhelming. Its theme, summed up by the title, is trying to play a winning hand while life’s dealing a crooked deck. But then a concept sounds too calculated – what this really is is the sound of a man trying to get some closure. It’s no more a concept album than Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker – in fact, anyone into left-field filing systems might want to consider sticking these two albums together on their CD shelf. Just don’t play them at the same volume.

Valor Del Corazón begins, rather surprisingly, with a glance back to Endless, Nameless, Ginger’s previous collaboration with Ralph Jezzard. A fuzzed-up, twisting staccato riff underpins the words “you make me feel as ugly as sin”, which is pretty much the entire lyric. When this little nugget of self-loathing eventually gives way to the catchy rock ‘n’ roll honky tonk of Mother City, a love letter to New York that echoes Loveshit and Girls Are Better Than Boys, it’s like opening the curtains on a sunny day.

By the third track, a monstrously rocking, funky instrumental bearing the mysterious title GTT that samples what sounds like ’60s or ’70s B-movie dialogue, it’s clear that anything goes. (And don’t be put off by the word ‘instrumental’ here – it’s a beast of a track; so much more than an intro tape.) Even Yeah Yeah Yeah – with a title like that, a dead cert to be a song about, y’know, playing live and rockin’ and stuff – manages to twist expectations by actually being about a guy who’s fed up of arguing with his woman and replies to all of her promises to put everything right with a dismissive ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’. It’s one of the catchiest songs about relationship strife that you’ll probably ever hear.

And there’s the good news for anyone worrying that eclecticism might mean a bunch of experimental workouts. In this case, it really doesn’t. The drums pound, the guitars are loud – and that includes the bass – there are thundering riffs aplenty and some fantastic soloing. Yes, you’ll find this under ‘rock’ in your local record store.

And the tunes are all instantly recognisable as the work of Ginger. Whether by accident or design, many of the vocal melodies have country leanings – the album was recorded in Willie Nelson’s Texan studio – and a few songs take countrified arrangements, including The Man Who Cheated Death, Something To Believe In and the epic Drinking In The Daytime, which starts in Nashville, heads to Liverpool and ends, six and a half minutes later, a few hundred kilometres north of Shitsville. But you don’t have to wear spurs to enjoy this stuff. Ginger’s long-mooted country album this isn’t.

What it does have, though, is plenty of outlaw spirit. Chances are taken with production – listen to the wall of sound that kicks in on the chorus to The Way and tingle. Arrangements sparkle with new sounds – is that a clarinet I hear on The Way and L.O.V.E (which, by the way, boasts an ending that’ll make you laugh out loud)? And I can’t help wondering what certain people will make of some of the close-to-the-bone lyrics. I’m most intrigued about Paramour, a laid-back pop-rocker about a guy cuckolded by another woman that features the chorus: “Whatever she does for you / Is something that I don’t do / I’d like to fuck her too.”

Valor Del Corazón almost feels like a greatest-hits set. It takes the best qualities from Ginger’s past records – Black Leather Mojo’s emotional rawness, Stop Thinking’s playfulness, Fishing For Luckies’ brash eclecticism, Endless, Nameless’s lack of fear – serves it up as a coherent work, and reminds you just why you fell in love with this guy’s music in the first place.

There are a few musical quotes from past songs – a nod to Sick Of Drugs in L.O.V.E’s guitar riff; a melodic bend towards Bad Time To Be Having A Bad Time in disc two’s Your Mouth, a lovely, not to mention threateningly bilious, piano-led ballad. Oh, and there’s even a sequel of sorts to Geordie In Wonderland called The Drunken Lord Of Everything. You didn’t know you needed this, but you do.

It’s a wonderful, filmic trip through a year in the life of one man. And 80 minutes after it all began, you find yourself buried in a pair of battered headphones, turning the volume up to wring every last drop of feeling out of the country-gospel Something To Believe In. As the choir swells and, finally, dips, Ginger gives us the money shot: “Music will get you through times of no love / Better than love will get you through times of no music.”

One day, he’ll look back and laugh. For now, he’s got plenty to smile about.

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