Bono Vox’s sumptuous residence in Killiney, Ireland, had a bathroom with porthole windows to enjoy the beauty of the bay, even from the toilet. Fearghal McKee, the lead singer of Whipping Boy, when he was doing the roadie for U2 he was lucky enough to use that bathroom and noticed that the portholes were too low and that in the end everything did less than make the landscape better seen; they were just the slightly pretentious idea of an architect eager to please a rock star.
Those portholes ended up later in the line of a Whipping Boy song. In We don’t need nobody else McKee sings: “They built portholes for Bono, to make him look across the bay and make him sing about the mountains. In this land you are what you own ”. It was not a direct attack on the U2 singer, it was more a bitter reference to the so-called Celtic Tiger, the economic boom of the new rich Irish: “You can be a king”, continues the song “and it all depends on the beautiful view you can have. “.
It could be said that the Whipping Boys went looking for it and that the absurd comparisons with U2 that ended up crushing them and turning them into a footnote in the history of britpop were generated by themselves. Nevertheless Heartworm, the second Whipping Boy album it contains We don’t need nobody else and ten other magnificent songs, it deserved much more than the lukewarm success it had in 1995. The fact that their album came after The holy bible of the Manic Street Preachers and soon after The bends Radiohead certainly did not help the Irish band, who found themselves, despite their excellent material and a series of memorable concerts, pushed into a corner. They could have hoped for American success, like the one that the Cranberries and (miraculously) Bush were having in those years, but instead of going to play in the United States they preferred to open concerts of their hero Lou Reed in Europe. That of Whipping Boy is the parable of a great band that has not been able to ride the wave. Maybe that’s exactly what makes it Heartworm a record to be saved with particular care and love: it is an album that deserved much more.
Joy Division and Velvet Underground are the tutelary deities of Whipping Boy and Fearghal McKee is a romantic and charismatic frontman capable of passing, naturally, from the audacity of the first U2 to thatennui nineties so typical of Radiohead first and then of Placebo. In the songs of Heartworm there is a kind of heroic fragility, of sublimated adolescent unease. In the enthralling When we were young McKee sings: “When we were young no one got old and no one died … and the first time you loved you had your whole life to give.” A song that has a meaning heard at twenty and takes on a whole new one by listening to it again at fifty, like perhaps all great songs.
There is no piece that is not a single potential in Heartworm: all killer no filler, “All chunks and no fillers” as they say in the jargon of music nerds and in the crafty title of an old Sum 41 album. Twinkle it’s a great pop song with a bewitching chorus, Tripped it attacks slowly and then grows up to take you by the throat, and the aforementioned We don’t need nobody else shows what singer Fearghal McKee was, with his detached speech exploding in a giant chorus.
Heartworm is one of those albums where the bar of storm and stress it continues to rise piece by piece, to levels perhaps unbearable for an adult. But its beauty is that so much emotionality ends up evaporating all in Morning rise, the blaze that closes the album in a riot of strings and with a refrain that says: “When our time comes, I’ll know”.
In 2015, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of Heartworm, with typically Irish contempt, Fearghal McKee claimed the failure of that album and his band as a medal: “But in the end we were fucking successful,” he said in an interview with music journalist Steve Cummins. “We were a band that wouldn’t hear anyone. Whipping Boy is not a hit hunting band name. Yeats used to say ‘never let a mood get out of your hands’: and that’s what we did with Heartworm. We have not allowed any mood to escape us, we have captured something beautiful and something true: and this is a fucking success ”.