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The Wildhearts, ‘The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed!’ (Gut Import)

For better, not worse, the Wildhearts may be the least fashionable band in rock’n’roll: too metal for pop fans, too pop for metalheads, fun but not necessarily funny. And they’ve made the catchiest hard-rock record you’ll hear this year.

Myriad lineup changes, drug madness, and soured record deals have led the Wildhearts to release only a handful of legit studio albums in their 14-year career, though their singles still routinely crash the U.K. Top 40. On Destroyed — which reteams singer/guitarist Ginger with two of the guys who played on the band’s lone U.S. release, 1993’s Earth vs. the Wildhearts — they come off like a British version of another great singles band, Cheap Trick, especially since “Only Love” and “Top of the World” are each a word away from being Cheap Trick titles, while yet another, “It’s All Up to Me,” does a reversal on that band’s “It’s Up to You.”

Gearhead Records will release a raucous B-sides collection here in March, but Destroyed better displays Ginger’s mastery of the roaring riff and indelible refrain. The raging “Nexus Icon” begins with a distorted staccato howl decrying celebrity worship and segues into the disarmingly sweet-natured “Only Love,” which suggests the Beatles on steroids –or at least ephedrine. On “Someone That Won’t Let Me Go,” Ginger needs a lover who’s “Gonna make me feel I truly am the best that I can get,” and by the 2:10 mark, he’s delivering a thrilling pitch shift to rival the key change in “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

Things get ferocious with “Get Your Groove On,” a lockstep thrash featuring guest screams by the Darkness’ Justin Hawkins. But at heart, Ginger is a lover man, and he saves his choicest words for “So Into You,” where he balances his compliments with witty self-deprecation (“I like your taste in outfits / But I love your taste in misfits”) and lets a Police-style interlude stand so close to the glammed-out crunch. If this is unfashionable, bring on the drum solos.