Album Review: The Whip – X Marks Destination

“Is this really stupid, or just ironic-stupid?”

This is one of those questions constantly knocking about in the minds of music critics. Usually, the answer is located in the subtle grey Limbo between “sucks too much to matter” (Ssion) and “too awesome to care” (Turbonegro). Apparently, that’s just a smidgen too subtle for Manchester dance-rock quartet The Whip. In fact, “subtle” might just be a recent addition to their vocabulary. But this fearsome foursome have decided to rewire our dictionary, too–on the band’s U.S. debut, X Marks Destination, which they’ve somehow convinced Razor and Tie to release, The Whip cooks up a couple new entries for “cliche” and “outright theft”.

But to be fair, X Marks Destination has a few things running for it: aside from a cute female drummer (who can indeed keep a beat but has some stupid stage name that I forgot) and a promotion campaign for FIFA ’09, there’s also the lead single/album opener “Trash”. The only song on the album worth putting 99 cents in Steve Jobs’ pocket for, “Trash” revisits the rubber band bass, clickity high hats and slashing Telecaster riffs that you fell in love with, cheated on, broke up with, forgave, and then got a naughty text message from back when “House of Jealous Lovers” first came out.

And while it’s hardly refreshing, there’s little bad that can be said about “Trash”; it’d fill out a house party mixtape nicely, and might even garner a few cries of ”hey, what was that band you played right before The Faint” at indie DJ nights. The band even manage to get through the whole music video without inducing any gut wrenching cringes.

Which, as further listening confirms, is a fucking miracle: after hearing the whole of X Marks Destination (at a torturous 51 minutes), the best part about “Trash” is the fact that the lyrics sheet is two lines long. Singer/guitarist Bruce Carter appears to have decided that his debut album, along with shifting some units for Razor and Tie, will be particularly useful to posterity as the definitive treatise on lyrical faux pas.

A sampler: “Every time I close my eyes” (“Frustration”); “don’t wanna hear voices/spinning around my head/can’t tell me what to do no more/keeping it to myself” (“Muzzle No. 1”); “I play the fool/I play too cool/but there are no rules/and I’m still in school” (“Save My Soul”); “Throw it all on the fire/I don’t wanna go home/and I can’t stay here” (“Throw It All on the Fire”) ”I gotta block out the pressure/pressure/pressure/pressure/pressure, unh!” (“Blackout”) and a probably-unintentional Dylan quote with “you go your way/and I’ll go mine” linked up with ”one-way street/I see the sign” (“Sister Siam”), forming the most painful couplet in the history of rhymed verse. This is obviously the work of an expert in the field of suck, and should be duly noted by all students.

However, X Marks…‘s greatest gaffe comes with the awful “Blackout”. Six minutes of “blackout, blackout/I’ll see you in the blackout”, and other lyrical Ipecac, all to a tune that’s more than just a reminder of Blur’s “Boys and Girls”–not least the verse-ending turnaround. But aping one great band isn’t enough. Check out the Whip’s instrumental shot at French house with “Divebomb” (which is magically available as a 12″ single from Kitsune Maison) –not to mention the wretched “Frustration”, which is benefited greatly by the listener’s singing “Ceremony” by New Order over the chorus…ouch.

What really ought to chap the ass of the musically-inclined public isn’t the awful lyrics or derivative music that plague The Whip’s debut (this is rock ‘n roll, last I checked). Bands are allowed to be bad, after all. But this particular ear sore is taking up valuable word space that could be devoted to bands that sound stunningly similar, but exponentially better. Namely, excellent import bin dance-punk from the likes of Does it Offend You, Yeah, Hadouken!, and Late of the Pier, among many other superiors. Thankfully, the latter of these is attending SXSW–alongside The Whip–and can give US festivalgoers a better taste of what’s worthwhile across the pond. The Whip, meanwhile, should pray. Pray to those lucky stars that netted a 12″ single, a record deal, and an overseas release. Forecast says Austin should expect isolated thunderstorms…better pray harder.

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