Two things Bowie’s first album in 13 years has confirmed: first, that the category of aged British rock acts trying to make albums for today’s music scene has apparently become a thing; second, that the ability to pull it off successfully is a distinction pretty much reserved for him. Good news for enthusiasts of the man behind hits like “Space Oddity,” but perhaps a rather unfortunate revelation for bands like The Wonder Stuff whose 9th album, Oh No…It’s The Wonder Stuff, just doesn’t stack up.
Sonically, the album is pleasing enough. It has a good energy that is kept up throughout, proving that with age does not come an erosion of musicianship. To keep things interesting, there are some unexpected touches — for example, surprise fiddles in the background on tracks like “Friendly Company.” Moreover, no one can fault it for straying from its genre. The band stays true to its brit-rock roots — bratty and ratty through and through, from its ostentatious length (21 tracks, clocking in at just under 75 minutes) to its lyrical style, which bemoan trivialities such as having to get out of bed in the morning. (“Oh No!”)
None of this is really problematic until you take into consideration the fact that the band’s members are in their 40s. Perhaps The Wonder Stuff is attempting to operate in the punk rock tradition of never wanting to grow up, but the album’s sound falls flat on this front. Tinny, diluted vocals and lyrics that are angry for all the wrong reasons make Oh No… simply too tame to carry this vibe effectively. Instead, it just comes across as entitled, confused, and a little pathetic. Lines like, “Where vanity prevails over the rest of the hood” only further this — sentiments that are clunky in their philosophizing and misplaced slang give off the impression of an out-of-date band trying too hard to be return to relevancy. A valiant effort, Oh No…It’s the Wonder Stuff’s ultimate flaw is not that it suffers from a severe case of nostalgia, but rather that it acts on it.