The last time I saw The Smoking Hearts, I was in a youth centre in the middle of Lincoln, and there was a guy in a Kerouac shirt moshing hard at the front in the ‘danger zone’ while completely off his face. Kerouac dude didn’t care that he was faceplanting the stage on a regular basis. He didn’t mind that after the first couple of songs, everyone was keeping a wider berth than usual. He was challenging the room, daring them to join him in the ‘danger zone’. In a lot of ways, Victory! is that drunk guy in a Kerouac shirt. It certainly has the same energy and determination to party on down. Tracks like ‘Benedict’ are embedded with pop melodies alongside screaming hardcore riffs, and the misleadingly titled ‘Seatbelts’ has a completely rock and roll swagger, nodding back to the glory days of hair metal with a carefully constructed guitar solo that feels anything but. From the beginning, it feels like the best party of your life, without the terrible morning after.
However, it would be crass to say that’s all there is to Victory!. It is ridiculously fun, but it’s also very clever. Many bands try to craft an album that feels like a party but reads like the smartest, most affirming piece of postmodern art you’ve ever encountered. Whether that’s what The Smoking Hearts intended or not, they’ve managed it. ‘Crimes Of Passion’, the hardcore alternative to a love song, follows obsession, sex and encounters in a way that’s refreshing and relevant. ‘The Natural Disasters’, which sounds like it belongs on a Sons Of Anarchy chase scene, is a tale of rising up out of desperation and desolation. ‘Stomper’ does exactly what it says on the tin – it drops the tempo a bit and becomes a deliberate force to be reckoned with. And just when you think it’s getting a bit too serious, a great solo drops or some excellent gang vocals come back into play and it’s a party once again.
There are very few moments in Victory! that can be classed as playing it safe. From the bombastic, vitriolic tirade of ‘Off With Your Head’ to the final thrilling moments of ‘Destroy!’, The Smoking Hearts have created something vital, and Victory! confirms, in an unrelenting manner, what I already knew – that the future of British punk is safe in the hands of The Smoking Hearts.
5 out of 5 high fives!