Party-poppers The Wonder Villains' long-awaited debut fizzes with youthful energy and delivers on live reputation
If ever a band could be described as the embodiment of fun, The Wonder Villains are that band.
The Derry~Londonderry four-piece have been tipped as the next big things of Northern Irish indie-pop since as far back as 2009, when school friends Eimear Coyle and Cheylene Murphy made their first tentative steps under the Wonder Villains name.
Their initial calling card was a song called 'Oh Peter', and it set out the band's MO from the beginning – giddy, high-energy indie-pop full of teenage brio and chock-full of references to pop culture, in this case the TV show Heroes and its character Peter Petrelli.
Back then it was just Eimear and Cheylene, but they were soon joined by Eimear's drumming brother Kieran and guitarist Ryan McGroarty, and together the fresh-faced foursome made themselves an unmissable attraction on the NI scene.
Their gigs were as memorable for their seemingly unstoppable energy, mile-wide smiles and increasingly outlandish, 1990s chic dress sense (somewhere between Clarissa Explains It All and Neneh Cherry in the 'Buffalo Stance' video) as for the tunes.
And what tunes. Most of them are here on this long-awaited and perhaps long-delayed debut album, Rocky, including 'Oh Peter' and other live favourites like 'Zola', '33', 'Blonde', 'Ferrari' and 'Marshall'. In other words, if you have seen the band live in the last five years, you are likely to recognise at least half of the record.
But this is nothing to complain about since the material is so strong and the album, recorded by longtime mentor Rocky O'Reilly (after whom it is named), manages to capture so vividly the exhilarating joy of the live show.
'TV' gets things off to a suitably breathless start. It's a Technicolor daydream; an exercise in wish fulfilment that sees Eimear and Cheylene excitedly yelp, 'Come and watch me, I'm on the TV – in HD' during the chorus. They've already made good on that promise several times over.
Just as infectious is 'Zola', an ode to 1990s footballer Gianfranco (whose playing days they must surely be too young to remember) which wastes no time in getting to a nagging earworm of a chorus and even throws in a ripping guitar solo for good measure.
The Villains have never been afraid to talk influences, Eimear and Cheylene in particular being prone to chat fangirlishly about their heroes, who range from Beyoncé and Katy Perry at one end of the spectrum, to Weezer, The Undertones and even Bruce Springsteen at the other.
Occasionally the band throw in some direct references, such as '33's mentions of a Weezer t-shirt, a ‘party out in Japan’ and being ‘across the sea’, or 'Baby Don't Look So Sad' with its overt nod to Springsteen's 'Born To Run'. And if you smush all of those aforementioned names together and squint a bit, you're not a million miles away from how Rocky sounds – direct, energetic guitar music made by kids raised on pure pop.
Rocky isn’t a perfect album – it sags a little in the middle and the slow songs can feel like filler – but what’s most remarkable is how infectious, rather than grating, it is.
When the Villains are on form, which is at least 70% of the time, it's almost impossible not to grin like a Cheshire cat. This is music about being a teenager, but it's emphatically not music for teenagers (though they will lap it up too). It swoons, sways and jumps up and down, and perhaps you will too, whatever your age.
The Wonder Villains have turned a heroically single-minded dedication to having fun into something of an art form.
Rocky is available on No Dancing Records from June 23.