With the release of their fourth studio allbum, The Xcerts have never sounded more vital. Things started with a dynamic edge on In The Cold Wind We Smile; got moody on Scatterbrain; started to soar on There Is Only You; and are truly emphatic on this latest outing. Despite being the product of difficult times for vocalist / guitarist Murray Macleod, the record is brimming with joy and positivity, and it certain to illuminate your day if you let it.
Quick side note: The previous three albums had a member each on the cover, this one has all three in rock star pose mode, and that's lovely.
Opener 'The Dark' flies in the face of the opening description, where its predecessors were all introduced with instrumental numbers, Macleod's emotive vocal is front and centre from the outset on Hold On To Your Heart. Piano balladry and yearning shouts are abruptly swept away as the one-two of preceding singles 'Daydream' and 'Feels Like Falling In Love' ensure this is not 37 minutes of mellow introspection. If you caught these tracks as singles, they've undoubtedly been niggling at you for months, and in context their appeal is only heightened. The former jams out at an infectious pace whilst the latter packs a wonderful punch with its chorus.
'First Kiss' keeps the energy following, whilst the lyrics continue to reveal the album's true inspiration as Macleod repeats "I keep making the same mistakes, over and over again." 'Crazy' strikes much the same chord in proclaiming the record's core belief: Heartbreak sucks, but it's not the end. Should you want to make wondrous pop rock songs and release a blistering fourth record as part of the healing process, then please do, we're all the better for it as we dance the worry away.
Title track 'Hold On To Your Heart' is bittersweet as once again it centres on the subject of lost love, whilst offsetting the sentiment with a "Woo!" here and there, as well as impassioned and powerful chorus you can't help but sing along too (complete with dramatic hand actions). The bombast of Black Peaks' Will Gardner's saxophone on 'Drive Me Wild' is undeniably jarring at first, but on the third, fourth... fifteenth lesson its a jubilant proclamation, and the way it segues into that mini guitar solo is just magic. The first three teaser tracks were proof of the band's pop rock credentials, but 'Drive Me Wild' will probably by the best '80s anthem of 2018, and an excellent final taster.
'We Are Gonna Live' and 'Show Me Beautiful' wind the album down to the pace of 'Cry', an emotional and sombre apology of a song. Percussion, guitar and saxophone swirl as Macleod bears his heart to those he feels deserve it, this shift in tone only helps drive home the final number's emotional weight. Hot off the heels of a run of joyous pop rock anthems, 'Cry' is a fitting bookend in conjunction with 'The Dark' to outline the personal relevance of this record.
For the listener its humbling to be taken along for this journey, but also decidedly enthralling in that the trio has invested in making it so incredibly life-affirming. The Xcerts have been climbing the ranks with their talented writing and energetic live shows, but Hold On To Your Heart and 2018 may signal their rightful ascension to the "big leagues" of the UK rock scene.