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 âteenage yearsâ film, through the highs and lows both. Kicking off with the piano-led âThe Darkâ, vocalist Murray Macleod leads us into the album with what is easily the softest track, which functions as somewhat of a palette cleanser. It doesnât 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 âtell me when the worst is over.â 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 âDaydreamâ quickly reinforces what the listener is in for, a fairly standard rock song that would have fit just as easily into an early-2000âs rock bands discography as it does into the Xcertsâ. The Xcerts rarely stray from this idea, with track after track of head-banging â or at the very least head-bobbing â with bombastic choruses and air-guitar worthy riffs.
Thereâs a throatiness to the album, and Macleodâs singing, like the band has been onstage for hours and everyoneâs 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. Thereâs nothing exceptional about it all â itâs 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 youâre expecting that from this Xcerts album, youâve got the wrong approach entirely. Itâs 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 âHold On To Your Heartâ, and âCryâ, within which can be found, respectively, the lines âIn the dead of night I break myself just to feel/ 'Cause I hate falling asleep without youâ and âwe need death to truly feel aliveâ. Standing right next to these lines are plenty of uplifting lyrics, never more obvious than in âShow Me Beautifulâ where, while Macleod may sing in an early chorus, âWe are terrified and we are lost inside/ We are scared to dream and we are scared to dieâ, he later sings, âWe will find ourselves and we will make things right/ We will dream so wild and we will live in lightâ.
âShow Me Beautifulâ 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, âDarkâ 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, thereâs even a track with a palm-muted guitar strumming the passage between the verse and chorus (âWe Are Gonna Liveâ) and a track where Macleod counts his way to one of the choruses with an exhortative âone, two, three, FOURâ (âFirst Kiss Feelingâ).
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. Itâs a road trip album, formulaic, simple, easy to listen to, easy to blast and zone out to, but thereâs nothing at all necessarily bad about it. Certain tracks donât quite live up to their potential (particularly âDrive Me Wildâ, a song with a super Eagles-y intro and guitar solo that otherwise doesnât live up to the Eagles comparison), but plenty others do. Standout tracks are âFeels Like Falling In Loveâ, âHold On To Your Heartâ, and âCryâ. âFeels Like Falling In Loveâ 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. Itâs 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 1975âs latest album. âHold On To Your Heartâ stands out for the vocals as Macleodâs âyouâs soar over rest of the lines in the choruses. âCryâ is like a guitar interpretation of âDarkâ 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, itâs custom-made for a feel-good film about overcoming the odds. Just like the rest of the album. Itâs no doubt theÂ 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.