A very wise man (and record producer) once told me that he thought “some of the best songs ever written start with a chorus.” I argued back that in rock that’s not usually the done thing, you build to the hook, but he then went on to list a whole host of Atlantic Soul, Tamla Motown and Stax tunes just to prove his theory, and it’s something that’s obviously stuck with me to this day.

Whether producer James Bragg had the same conversation during the recording of the long awaited eighth studio album from London Oi!/streetpunk legends Cock Sparrer (Bragg returning to duty following his sterling work on the band’s ‘Forever’ opus), I’ll probably never know, but it’s exactly how ‘Hand On Heart’ begins. BOSH! Straight into the chorus of ‘With My Hand On My Heart’ and this 2 and half minute belter is an instant classic.

What quickly becomes obvious though is whatever chats were had, this time around the Sparrer boys are doing things a little bit different. Yes ‘Hand On Heart’ is quintessentially the band we all know and love, but this time around they are (just like Desperate Measures have done with their recent album) pushing the punk rock envelope just a little bit more. Take the distorted guitar and thumping drum introduction that segues into the fantastic ‘Mind Your Own Business’ for example, is the hook here the gang vocal chorus or the guitar riff? I’ll let you decide, but for me it’s one of the many highlights that ‘Hand On Heart’ has to offer, and yeah this could finally be the sound the band has always looked for from a studio record.

‘I Belong To You’ is up next, and this is a song that if you could cut it open would positively bleed Cock Sparrer, as would ‘No Way Out’ which follows at the album’s mid-point, the latter reminding me of the band circa the ‘Here We Stand’ era (a record which is now 17 years old, jeez). This is feelgood music to shine your cherry reds to getting ready for a Friday night on the town… classic Cock Sparrer.

Talking of which, the lyrically brilliant ‘Rags to Riches’ is all about just that; dressing to impress and having a sense of self pride whatever the world can throw at you. Something that the chugging ‘Take It On The Chin’ (a track that had previously featured the ‘Garry Bushell presents: Oi! 40 Years Untamed’ LP) echoes and it’s at this point I have to say that its tremendous to hear Colin McFaull in such fine voice, delivering some of his most impassioned work to date.

That punk rock envelope I mentioned earlier gets well and truly ripped to shreds by the time we reach the opening bars of ‘One Way Ticket’. Is this the band writing for a yet to be filmed Bond movie theme? Whatever it is, it’s epic, and the early-70s Slade-mid section is absolute bloody genius, as is the “Where are they?” vocal hook that drives home the pounding ‘Nowhere To Be Found’, a song that could easily have come from (Sparrer guitarist Daryl Smith’s other band) Argy Bargy’s superb ‘Hopes Dreams Lies & Schemes’ album.

Oh, and then there’s my real highlight of ‘Hand On Heart’, the beautiful, (yeah you read that right) ‘My Forgotten Dream’. The string section arranged by Simon Dobson (who’s worked with everyone from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to Bring Me The Horizon) is like a ray of spring sunshine cutting through the clouds on this most wonderful of Cock Sparrer moments, and even the hardest of heart listening to this is going to melt just a little bit, trust me on this one.

Which leaves us just enough time for the album’s final track ‘Here We Stand’, a boisterous call to arms kind of affair, cut from the same cloth as ‘One By One’ from ‘Forever’, and if this really does go on to prove to be the band’s final hurrah, what a way to end it all eh?

There’s no one out there that writes Oi!/streetpunk anthems quite like Cock Sparrer, and that’s a fact. That they have taken their magic songwriting formula and augmented it with new ideas and techniques fifty-two years after the band first got together shows their continued commitment to be the band other band’s look up to when it comes to punk rock music.

‘Hand On Heart’ is released on 5th April 2024 via Captain Oi!/Cherry Red Records on a multitude of formats to suit everyone’s needs and you can catch the band live at two exclusive album release shows at  O2 Shepherds Bush Empire – Saturday 6th April 2024 and O2 Academy Glasgow – Saturday 13th April 2024.

Hand on heart, punk rock doesn’t get much better than this, so get your copy on pre-order NOW! Here



Author: Johnny Hayward