Stadium anthems for your favourite John Hughes film.
With their fourth album, Hold On To Your Heart, The Xcerts bring to the table a sheer joy of an album that encapsulates every single one of your favourite pop-rock bands from your teenage years, and your favourite rock bands from the jukeboxes. The album feels like it was custom-made to soundtrack the next great ‘teenage years’ film, through the highs and lows both. Kicking off with the piano-led “The Dark”, vocalist Murray Macleod leads us into the album with what is easily the softest track, which functions as somewhat of a palette cleanser. It doesn’t stand out as a precursor of what is to come, instead, it sets a baseline above which all other tracks soar. The only clue as to what is about to follow comes when the song ends and Macleod screams “tell me when the worst is over.” We feel as if the track may be about to kick into second gear and explode out of the speakers, but instead, it suddenly ends. The subsequent track “Daydream” quickly reinforces what the listener is in for, a fairly standard rock song that would have fit just as easily into an early-2000’s rock bands discography as it does into the Xcerts’. The Xcerts rarely stray from this idea, with track after track of head-banging – or at the very least head-bobbing – with bombastic choruses and air-guitar worthy riffs.
There’s a throatiness to the album, and Macleod’s singing, like the band has been onstage for hours and everyone’s starting to lose their voice and get tired. Tight and together, but with the slightest edge to it all. The perfect non-threatening teenage rebellion listening for teens or anyone nostalgic for the days when everyone wanted to be in a band and everyone could strum their way through at least one song. There’s nothing exceptional about it all – it’s not some serious album about politics or changing the world in a huge way, nor is it a ground-breaking record that redefines what music can be or do. But then, if you’re expecting that from this Xcerts album, you’ve got the wrong approach entirely. It’s a fun rock album about love, attraction, and lust, at times hiding some potentially devastating lyrics under a haze of high-energy guitar and drums. Take for example the tracks “Hold On To Your Heart”, and “Cry”, within which can be found, respectively, the lines “In the dead of night I break myself just to feel/ 'Cause I hate falling asleep without you” and “we need death to truly feel alive”. Standing right next to these lines are plenty of uplifting lyrics, never more obvious than in “Show Me Beautiful” where, while Macleod may sing in an early chorus, “We are terrified and we are lost inside/ We are scared to dream and we are scared to die”, he later sings, “We will find ourselves and we will make things right/ We will dream so wild and we will live in light”.
“Show Me Beautiful” in fact sums up the entire album quite neatly, with the highs and lows evidenced both lyrically and musically. Instruments drop in and out and the lyrics go from fear and pain and sadness to optimism and beauty. It combines the simplicity and downbeat nature of opener, “Dark” with the energy and catharsis of the latter tracks on the album. It even has a fade-out ending, the favourite of everyone listening to music for a nostalgic trip. For further nostalgia, there’s even a track with a palm-muted guitar strumming the passage between the verse and chorus (“We Are Gonna Live”) and a track where Macleod counts his way to one of the choruses with an exhortative “one, two, three, FOUR” (“First Kiss Feeling”).
Hold On To Your Heart feels like an exercise in nostalgia, as you remember the last song that you listened to when you were fourteen. An album of hope and despair, of feeling down but then getting up and kicking down doors, turning up the music, and living. It’s a road trip album, formulaic, simple, easy to listen to, easy to blast and zone out to, but there’s nothing at all necessarily bad about it. Certain tracks don’t quite live up to their potential (particularly “Drive Me Wild”, a song with a super Eagles-y intro and guitar solo that otherwise doesn’t live up to the Eagles comparison), but plenty others do. Standout tracks are “Feels Like Falling In Love”, “Hold On To Your Heart”, and “Cry”. “Feels Like Falling In Love” is the most optimistic, and also has one of the greatest guitar sounds across the album, with the insanely fuzzy little guitar solo just before the last chorus starts up emphatically with everything turned up to 10. It’s the kind of song you can imagine playing just before the party starts winding down, with everyone belting along their own version of the lyrics and has a wonderful little shimmery ending that calls to mind the 1975’s latest album. “Hold On To Your Heart” stands out for the vocals as Macleod’s “you”s soar over rest of the lines in the choruses. “Cry” is like a guitar interpretation of “Dark” and is the perfect bombastic end-of-album-five-minute-long-building-and-falling-ballad; arms held aloft, staring into the sky as the rain pours down, it’s custom-made for a feel-good film about overcoming the odds. Just like the rest of the album. It’s no doubt the Xcerts have produced an album that will have a resurgence when summer hits, and we all open up our windows and crank the music up.