Wingmen is a collaboration between Baz Warne (The Stranglers), Paul Gray (The Damned), Leigh Haggerty (Ruts DC) and Marty Love (Johnny Moped).
Each have floated in and out of each other's existence at venues and festivals up and down the country, and two of them (Gray and Love) have recorded together before (with Captain Sensible under the Sensible Gray Cells banner).
Started as a project to keep sane in lockdown, files were shared between members, bits added, bits re-written. All this was done without any of the members actually meeting until they convened at Panther Studios in Reigate (helmed by ex-Tenpole Tudor man Dick Crippen).
To complete the slightly odd nature of conception and recording, Marty Love's drums were the last sounds to be added. The songs were effectively complete, and Love had to find a route in and maintain the swing and the beat. Credit to all the players,as this unorthodox method does not compromise the finished article in any way.
The DNA of each host band is in evidence - the slight confrontation of The Stranglers, the low bass rumble and psychedelic tendencies of The Damned, the innate musicality and tightness of The Ruts, and the solidity veering towards the bombastic ramshackle of Johnny Moped.
But this is no "pick the best bits, throw it in a pot, and see how it mixes together" - Wingmen stand on their own feet as a musical collective, informed by experience but not afraid to step out on their own.
So whilst you get passing moments in song where you think "oh, that's a bit like XXX" it never becomes facsimile or tribute.
Born in lockdown, there are plenty of State Of The Nation commentaries, mixed up with melancholy, darkness ("Down In The Hole") and hope ("It's Raining All Over England", complete with the refrain "Happy Days Are Here Again"), and a takedown of social media ("Backstage At The Opera") - including a vitiolic Baz Warne exasperated monologue.
Instrumental "Starting Blocks" opens up affairs, before a mix of pop-punk-blues-riffing imbues proceedings. Highlights are plentiful, beyond those already mentioned, "Brits", "I Would If I Could" and "Oh! What A Carry On" vie for supremacy
Even though the members were apart and the creative process potentially slowed by seclusion, the album is full of ideas, tricks, great lyrics, and top notch playing.
This may be the only output for this collective, but it's a worthy addition to their respective CVs. Proof that something good came from the time when we locked ourselves away from the world.
And who knows, as live performance and studio visits for bands give way to down time, Wingmen may reconvene for live shows and maybe even another album - although if that one is birthed in the studio would it lack the feeling of necessity and exasperation of this very very fine album.
Down In The Hole
Oh! What A Carry On
Backstage At The Opera