Winchester 7 & The Runners – The Waking Giant

 Winchester 7 & The Runners – The Waking Giant

Winchester 7 & The Runners – The Waking Giant – Album Review

Feels like it’s been a while since we last had Winchester 7 & The Runners on these pages of ours!

Always good to have’em back though.  It’s comforting to know good people are still out there doing good things, even if it’s all taking place in the background while we’re keepin’ busy keepin’ on ourselves.

“Two Feet On The Ground” starts up the brand-new record, which would be the sixth entry into their catalog since around 2019.  We’ve been there for about half of’em so far, not including this new one, which will put us over the 65% mark…you can read previous reviews on Argos Holiday, Catacomb Songs, and Heart Of The Golden Mystics here at the site if you haven’t already.  If you’re familiar with the vibe of Winchester 7 & The Runners, I think you’ll be quite pleased with “Two Feet On The Ground” as The Waking Giant clicks into gear.  It’s got a solid Pop/Rock energy to it, memorable melody & hooks, and it feels like a logical progression of the band you know and love.  “Two Feet On The Ground” actually has a little bit of the magic you’d find in something like The Strokes with its combination of sunken-in vocals and suppressed melody at the core of it all…it takes a little bit of work on the listening end to absorb it all, or at least a healthy dose of volume to appreciate all that’s gone into it, but everything you wanna find is there.  For the most part, I’m loving what I hear…I’m a little bit tossed up over the drum sounds and whether that particular element of the music is up a bit higher in the mix than perhaps it should be, but other than that, I feel like Winchester 7 & The Runners start this up with a full dose of quality intact.

Case in-point, “Sell The Apocalypse” seems to have everything sitting in the right spot mix-wise, in my opinion.  I’ve always dug the wildly colorful sound of Winchester 7’s plugged-in, electrified ukulele, and I feel like you get an excellent glimpse of its appeal on “Sell The Apocalypse” – but I also think an extra shout-out is deserved for how the vocals have continually gotten better over the course of this band’s existence too.  There’s lots of confidence on display on the mic these days, and it’s justified as far as my ears are concerned!  Dude can sing…he should be proud of that…and the longer this band has been around for, the better we’ve been able to hear the essential way that their vocals play a role in the songs they create.  “Sell The Apocalypse” has that early R.E.M. type of allure to it, which I’m certainly all for – this track would make for a great candidate to be a single based on its attention to detail and the strength of its hooks.  There’s not a giant amount of separation between what you’d consider to be its verse and chorus…it kind of all flows together in one direction, but I didn’t feel like “Sell The Apocalypse” left us wanting for anything more than we get in that regard.  Where there might have been a bit more opportunity, would be to pronounce things like the horns in the mix that are relegated to the background…you can start to hear them creep into play a bit more around the two-minute mark, but to really give “Sell The Apocalypse” the highlight finale it deserves, I’d probably have recommended bringing them up in the mix a bit more.  As it stands, “Sell The Apocalypse” is kind of like one big chunk of meat in song-form…super satisfying, but also very consistent.  I like how the vocals ramp-up in their madness towards the end, but yeah…I suppose I’d have recommended starting that a bit earlier too so that “Sell The Apocalypse” felt like it was a bit more diverse than it is on a structural level, even if it isn’t.  Don’t get me wrong though – I’ll take it as is now for sure – this is still a strong cut on The Waking Giant.

What I like about tracks like “On The Pipeline” is how natural and organic they sound.  While it’s very true that a lot of this cut still relies heavily on a similar approach that Winchester 7 & The Runners take to the majority of their tunes, that’s also part of its appeal – this band does what they do, they do it all better than they did it the last time, and even if it’s not too dramatic of a change between records or songs, nothing sounds forced or remotely like they’re pandering for our attention.  I really dig the clarity you’ll find in “On The Pipeline” – we’ve experienced a bit of muddiness in the mix in this band’s results on past records, but from the sounds of things on The Waking Giant, the bulk of those issues has been resolved and we can now dive right into the music without any real obstacles getting in the way.  Where the most space to evolve exists for Winchester 7 & The Runners is to really dive in and create that audible separation between their verses and choruses.  It’s not required as there are no actual rules when it comes to the art of making music, but yeah…right now, they’re relying on the vocals to make that transition apparent, and they’ve got the opportunity to define it further by the music going with’em.  Overall though,”On The Pipeline” has that mellow groove-rock thing goin’ on like you’d find in some of the more trance-like cuts from The Dandy Warhols…so for sure, there’s still plenty of appeal to be found in a track like this.  Balancing diversity with identity is the biggest challenge for any artist/band.

And why is that exactly?  Typically because we’re “Scared Of Changing” too much – but it’s crucial to challenge yourself as much as you can as an artist, because that’s how real breakthroughs occur.  I can get behind “Scared Of Changing” and the versatility it brings to the album sound-wise, even if I wouldn’t think it’s as strong of a candidate for people’s choice.  Where Winchester 7 & The Runners can get caught up is the similar strumming patterns that occur, no matter which song sounds like what – there are still fundamental aspects of how the instrumentation works that seem much more static than they oughta be…and I’d still challenge this band to find ways to do a bit more with respect to that.  All-in-all though, I’m happy with “Scared Of Changing” from the concept to the final results…it still sounds vastly different than the majority of what we hear on this record and have within their catalog so far, and I appreciate that.  Change doesn’t have to occur in leaps and bounds…evolution is allowed to go slowly as far as I can tell…and so sure – I feel like what we hear in “Scared Of Changes” has enough differences in it to satisfy our ears…for now.  I still think there is some room for Winchester 7 & The Runners to bring out the backing elements in the music that are really making an impact artistically and creatively – we can hear them in there as it stands now, but bringing up those elements of the instrumentation beyond the bass, ukulele, drums, and vocals, could certainly be the right move to enhance the experience even more.  There are lots of great things goin’ on in the background; I’d wanna make sure that’s being heard.

I’m surprised I never noticed this before, but there are actually quite a few similarities to be found between the sound of Winchester 7 & The Runners and the Perren Street Parade, a band that existed way back when sleepingbagstudios was still just a tiny bean sprout.  Anyhow…I loved that band, and I’m happy that kind of grounded, earthy sound still exists and thrives in a project like this one here…just surprised I never noticed that comparison before now.  Maybe it’s just songs like “Stories To Tell” that bring out the similarities a bit more than others, I don’t know.  This track is a great example of how the backing elements get to play the more pronounced starring role we’ve been looking for though – I like the extra vocals you’ll find in this tune, but also how the keys/synth get more of an opportunity to shine in this track too.  I’d definitely be interested in hearing more tunes with a collaboration as effective as this one…at the heart of it all, it’s the combination of vocals you’ll find in “Stories To Tell” that make it work as well as it does.  It has a ‘deep cut’ type of feel to it right away…not necessarily the track you’d want as the single or the most instantly accessible, but the kind of song that brings you back to listen to an album all over again, and continually grows on you with each spin you put into its grooves over time.

As for “Dreaming In Color,” I went back and forth on this tune.  On the one hand, I think there are some really great things about it, in particular, the lyrics and vocals come out with some of the strongest highlights you’ll find on the whole record.  Love the vivid details in the words, love the expressive way that this song is sung as well – these are huge positives for Winchester 7 & The Runners.  Sound-wise, I felt like it was harder to argue that there’s a whole lot here that furthers the record or provides something that we have yet to hear from the band already I guess.  Drums-wise, I felt very much the same as I did with “Two Feet On The Ground” at the start of the album.  In the end, by the time I was set to write this review, I felt like I came around enough to warm up to “Dreaming In Color” – as in, ultimately the positives far outweigh anything I felt like I was hung up on.  Credit where credit is due, when they transition from verse to chorus in the vocals of this song, I feel like that’s an understated moment that is truly moving.  I still feel like it’s largely up to the vocals to establish the differences in between parts, which could very well throw a lot of folks off when they’re listening to Winchester 7 & The Runners, but overall, there’s a lot of magic from the microphone in this cut that kept me coming back to it.  And to be entirely fair, musically, everything is played just as well as it is on any other track for the record…all I’m saying is that it’s harder to pinpoint how this song is moving the album forward.  Nothing wrong with having another quality tune in the lineup though, even if it’s still more of the same.

Being tossed up about the inclusion of a song ain’t always a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination – in fact, knowing something is a bit more polarizing in that regard can often be a great thing.  It’s tracks like “Disassociation/All You Ever Wanted” where you end up feeling more sure of something not quite measuring up that become more of a risk to include.  Let me be clear – a single great moment in a song can often make it super tempting to include, and “Disassociation/All You Ever Wanted” completely has that in the hooks, which the majority of this track will rely on structurally…and that’s a good thing.  That’s an example of playing to your strengths, and Winchester 7 & The Runners make the right call in that regard when it comes to “Disassociation/All You Ever Wanted,” because it’s a little on the thin side otherwise…as in, I felt like the verses weren’t quite up to par with what we know this band is capable of.  T’ain’t the worst, but they’re still far from the best too.  Where Winchester 7 & The Runners find themselves a bit on the lucky side this time around, is that the hooks they’ve threaded into the chorus are basically irresistible, and that moment goes on to essentially save the entire song.  It becomes the age old question surrounding contrast – would one part be as strong without the other being noticeably weaker, or vice versa?  We never really know the answer to that, but presumably, both halves still need each other in some way, shape, or form…all I know is that Winchester 7 & The Runners crushed the chorus of “Disassociation/All You Ever Wanted” so hard that I still feel like this track is up there with the best of’em on the record, or at the very least the most memorable.  That’s impressive considering the imbalance between each core part of the song…it would have been extremely tough not to include this track into the lineup, even if it’s got one half that significantly pales in comparison to the other overall.

Bonus tracks!  “Not Dead Yet” is probably going to be quite the hit with most listeners out there, with the band finding some kind of hybrid ground between being an Elvis type of tune and something like the Stones on “Let’s Spend The Night Together.”  It’s not enough of either side of that scenario to feel like it’s ripping anything off, and so let the good times roll I say!  The undeniable rhythm and groove of a track like this is pretty much a guaranteed crowd pleaser…it’s just a fun track to listen to and I’d be a bit surprised if anyone out there felt anything otherwise.  Love the vocals in this tune, I love the way that the piano/keys get to play a starring role in this track as well…and I suppose, if anything, my recommendation to Winchester 7 & The Runners would be to not be so shy about making tracks like this a part of the actual lineup.  I get the whole signature sound of having the electric ukulele being the focus and all, but results are results y’all – and when you hear the insatiable allure & universal appeal of a song like “Not Dead Yet,” you kind of have to acknowledge that one of the better tracks on this album has been relegated to the bonus round when it probably should have been in the main lineup.  Which, if I’m not mistaken, was how I felt about the last album from Winchester 7 & The Runners too, when they covered “Bizarre Love Triangle” as a bonus track at the end of Heart Of The Golden Mystics.  The main lesson here, is don’t get too tied down to what it is you think the people out there would expect from ya – don’t be afraid to shake things up – “Not Dead Yet” is a massively strong song on The Waking Giant.

Personally, I don’t feel half as attached to “Find Me A Place” as I did with “Not Dead Yet” – I feel like the final bonus track was more of a B-side inclusion in that regard.  Not a bad track by any definition – that’s not what I’m saying – but yeah, I’d put a track like this in the category of not quite doing anything else that we haven’t yet to hear from Winchester 7 & The Runners on this particular record.  Like I was saying earlier though, more of a good thing is exactly that if you’re enjoying yourself – which is ultimately what this band really seems like they’re all about…turning up the amplifiers, pressing record, and having a ball while they’re creating new tunes.  Y’ain’t gonna find me objecting to that – I fully support’em doin’ what they do, exactly how they wanna do it.  Sure I’ve got opinions on this or that, but that’s really all they are and we all have’em…I’m just the guy that writes’em all down is all.  The bottom line is that Winchester 7 & The Runners has always gone in their own direction from the very start, and I suspect that’ll always be the case with this band.  “Find Me A Place” has a truly heartfelt hook in the chorus that should be more than enough of a reason to keep people listening right to the very end of the bonus material – it’s another solidly memorable melody and undeniably pleasant.  There’s a lot of personality in this final cut, and I’d reckon that’ll be the key ingredient that has people pushing the repeat button.

Find out more about Winchester 7 & The Runners from the official website at:

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