For Whipping Boy, two lines from their 1995 classic Heartworm resonate more than any others.
Toward the end of “When We Were Young”, Fearghal McKee sings:
“What might have been,
When we were young.”
25 years on, those lyrics are sure to stir their share of emotions. Heartworm was going to be their big label breakout, their rise from critically acclaimed to universal adored, but it wasn’t to be. While critically praised, the album failed to launch the group and they only released one more record, 2000’s Whipping Boy.
Regardless of what might have been, Heartworm remains one of the finest pieces of work by an Irish artist or group. After the release of their debut Submarine in 1992 and its mediocre impact – despite acclaim – the band began to feel interest, and friends, drifting away.
What resulted was the creation of an honest, brutal, angry, nostalgic record. McKee wrote of youth and wildness, of relationships and abuse and mental health. Each song is a journey into his mind. The storytelling on the record, while incredibly personal, is also universal. There are lyrics, moments and memories on the record that every listener will relate to. It might be hard to hear at times, but that’s the beauty of the writing.
Of course, it isn’t all about the McKee and his lyrics. Whipping Boy’s sound on Heartworm finely balances alternative with shoegaze, albeit a little on the aggressive side. Each member has a starring role, with the songs having that unique balance of consistency and unpredictability. As McKee put it, “the best of everybody came out” on Heartworm.
While it’s best to consider the record as a whole, certain songs live longer in the hearts of Whipping Boy fans, including “When We Were Young”, “We Don’t Need Nobody Else”, “Twinkle”, “Blinded” and “Personality”.
Heartworm should have been the beginning of something special for Whipping Boy. It should have seen them become internationally renowned and a pillar of the Irish music for years to come. However, it wasn’t to be.
In an interview with The Irish Times in 2015, guitarist Paul Page reflected on the band, saying “Bands have a certain time when they are vital and our time had passed. Even if we had written anything new, the chances are people wouldn’t have been that interested.”
While Whipping Boy’s time may have passed, we will always have Heartworm and its beautiful, timeless honesty.