Most people today prioritize time. Technology thrives on this idea, by making everyday appliances and activities user-friendly, typically requiring the least amount of effort. (La-Z-Boy used to be the go-to example of this, but today Apple reigns champion.) As a writer, its harder and harder to hold everyones attention — especially when the current Y (or Z?) generation converses in odd letters and numerals via Twitter or FB — and thats especially the case for writing album reviews. Now, youre probably thinking, Why isnt he talking about The Whigs latest release yet?, and thats a valid question, but nowadays, its all about a disclaimer. So consider this one. Im going to go off on a tangent with this review, so if youre game to hear me out, please proceed, but if you dont have the time, heres a quick summary: The Whigs latest LP = mad weak, bro. There, go and Tweet it.
Still with me?
In The Dark, The Whigs third effort, reminds me of a friend of a friend, whose uncanny resemblance to Jesse Bradford always bothered me, but not nearly as much as his insistence on me following his band online. Now, its been about six years since weve all become addicted to social networks, but this friend — for story purposes, lets call him Dale — has been in six bands, all of which have friended me, invited me to various gigs, and informed me of various demos or band photos. Its sort of obnoxious, but at this point, its almost comical.
Each band represented a new sound Dale fiddled around with, which would seem natural if he were an original musician in the slightest. Sometimes things are more obvious than they actually appear. It was no coincidence that in 2003-2004, Dale touted around in a screamo-hardcore band, amidst the popularity of My Chemical Romance or The Used. Or, when in 2006, he tried his luck in some new wave bullshit outfit that oddly resembled The Killers (on good days) and The Rapture (when they were bored on-stage). If you want to know what act hes caravanning in these days, just open the latest Spin or Rolling Stone, and look at the top artists. Ill save you the trouble… its a folk-revival quartet. WTF, right?
In the Dark, much like Dales four or five musical attempts throughout the past decade, strives to be something thats already been done. Its witty-garage rock-turned-polished-arena rock. Sound familiar? Of course. Kings of Leon paraded it across the world all last year. They sold millions of albums in a time when millions of people dont buy albums anymore. Its not surprising bands today aspire to mimic that success. Hey, it happened to Nirvana. Only here, The Whigs hardly try to cover up their tracks.
If you find this a loose comparison, youre not listening to In the Dark. The majority of the LP comes off as a cheaper, less interesting knock off of Kings of Leons 2008 uber-successful juggernaut, Only by the Night. Listen to the opening chords of Kill Me Carolyne, for Christs sake. Between the cajoling chorus, the atmospheric guitar scales, and the runners anthem-like drumming, its the poor mans Sex on Fire. The only difference is that vocalist Parker Gispert rattles off like a clown at the end of each extended chorus line, mildly singing, Cause Im not worthy/Of your affection… Once you make the comparison, you sort of feel dirty for having listened; you know, how you might react if you ate at a Chilis in Texas.
Black Lotus similarly tries to snag at those KOL-inspired riffs, only its a bit more subdued. Vocal hooks and static drumming line the tune, but Gisperts honest pitch, which sold us on 2008s Mission Control, is so lost in the mix, its hard to feel connected. Producer Ben Allen, the man who made Animal Collective tolerable to the masses with last years Merriweather Post Pavillion, manages to strip away the unique parts that made The Whigs distinctive from all the modern garage-rock clutter thats piled up since 2001.
Hundred/Million sounds prepped for a Dodge commercial, working off sleek guitar tones and squeaky clean vocal tracks that come off as obnoxious. Musically, I Am For Real or Naked could have been a B-side for The Killers or the aforementioned Kings of Leon, but here, theyre just filler. Considering the album is a dying art these days, filler is to an album like trans fat is to Americas youth.
There are some things to take away here. Someones Daughter stomps about like an old Soul Asylum tune, but it carries the grit and youthful bombast that The Whigs started to trademark on its sophomore effort. In The Dark sees Gispert sounding like Win Butler at times, but its the only song where the production actually works. Its dance-y, sure, but amongst the mess here, its audibly warranted.
But what In the Dark really stands for is a band trying desperately hard to uproot itself from the very genre and scene that birthed them. Musicians should grow and evolve, thats only a part of the process, but when its so forced and with all the wrong motives (which only seems blatant here), its less an effort and moreover a knock-off. Its sort of like when big-budget blockbusters hijack the theaters during the summer, and similar direct-to-video releases (most likely starring someone from Step by Step or Melrose Place) pop up in the video store weeks ahead. Nobody wants that. Just ask my friend Dale.