Overall Score: 8/10 Songwriting: 8/10 Performances: 8/10 Originality: 7.5/10 Pros: No frills rock music played with reckless abandon | A huge improvement from the previous album | Electrifying performances across the board Cons: Very little
I am loathe to use the H word when talking about Nottingham two-piece, Haggard Cat. So should you be. This is an entirely separate entity that should be judged on its own merits and given a fair crack of the whip as any band would be, and as such ought to be considered without mentioning any and all prior projects. But goddamn do I miss HECK. The quartet that caused havoc wherever they went, turning heads and destroying surroundings all the while with dexterous, hulking music built on a backbone of incredible hardcore. HECK were a force of nature and their final show at the 2017 iteration of ArcTanGent was a desperately sad day. From the ashes the proverbial phoenix did rise though and Matt ‘Butch’ Reynolds and Tom Marsh, the guitarist/vocalist and drummer respectively revived Haggard Cat – formerly HCBP for the release of debut Charger.
Second album, Challenger, was released in 2018 and made reasonable waves in the United Kingdom seeing Haggard Cat pick up some salacious support slots and make a name for themselves distant from their previous work. The problem is that Challenger is a fine album, but not up to the standard the duo have proven themselves to be capable of in the past. Songs like American Graffiti and Bone Shaker proved that they were ready to write colossal rock songs built for sizeable venues, but there was a distinct lack of electricity on the sophomore LP and as such some people are left wanting for something more. So, with Common Sense Holiday, Reynolds and Marsh have the unenviable task of living up to the high bar they have set themselves.
The rollicking rock n roll swagger synonymous with Haggard Cat is at the forefront of this record. First Words has an immediacy through its whammy inflected riffing that exaggerates HC’s already cemented ability to fill academy venues to comical proportions. You will laugh in disbelief at how effective the relatively simply riff is, headbang to the drums being battered like Deontay Wilder fighting Tyson Fury and have an exhilarating experience. So it goes for much of the record as Reynolds and Marsh work in tandem to create monolithic, Death From Above 1979-style tunes that are satisfying on a brute force level. There is more beneath the surface, but as a work of mosh-ready party anthems, European Hardware and Human Animal will more than sate fans of grimy rock with dirt under its fingernails.
Beneath the bravado and rocking out there is a deeper meaning. In the run up to the album’s release, Reynolds and Marsh encased themselves in concrete as a form of political protest against the impending threat of Brexit in the United Kingdom. Many parts of this album deal with alienation and disillusionment with established structures and tradition. The music may not be ground-breaking or particularly innovative, but does speak to a band dissatisfied with the current state of the world on both an ideological level and a musical one. Lyrics that satirise the current political climate are as razor sharp as the thrashing punk edge of the rock twosome, especially found on the hammer-on heavy Show Reel.
There may at this point their career be an inclination to label Haggard Cat as a straight-ahead rock outfit. In spite of the spiky brashness, Common Sense Holiday is a dynamic record: Rational is a slower paced rumble that showcases a sludgy, New Orleans style riff unlike the tracks preceding it, and the heavy feedback driven Time is a wild-eyed stare of intimidation. The brutishness juxtaposed with reflexivity and the intellect necessary to provide such biting commentary of the global political climate makes for a wonderfully diverse record in what seems a limited framework.
The breadth of influences apparent on this album may not be the most wide ranging – generally we’re talking about Queens of the Stone Age and Death From Above 1979 – but music this good doesn’t need to break the mould. It doesn’t need to pull from the deepest annals of musical history, it just needs to satisfy primal urges with its reckless abandon and Haggard Cat do so with Common Sense Holiday. An album packed to the rafters with colossal riffs and a matching gravity to the lyrical ideation, there’s never a dull moment and this might just be the best Haggard Cat release thus far. Best of all, for the first time since the split and because of the strength of this record, I don’t miss HECK. The energy captured in the studio here is palpably visceral and god only knows how far the duo will push themselves live when armed with this killer material. Common Sense Holiday is a necessity to fans of side-lining rock music that doesn’t rely on trickery or studio wizardry. Pure, uncut rock and roll.
Haggard Cat’s Common Sense Holiday is out March 13th via Earache Records