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Album Review: The Whigs – In the Dark

F

Artists

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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, it’s harder and harder to hold everyone’s attention — especially when the current Y (or Z?) generation converses in odd letters and numerals via Twitter or FB — and that’s especially the case for writing album reviews. Now, you’re probably thinking, “Why isn’t he talking about The Whigs’ latest release yet?”, and that’s a valid question, but nowadays, it’s all about a disclaimer. So consider this one. I’m going to go off on a tangent with this review, so if you’re game to hear me out, please proceed, but if you don’t have the time, here’s 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, it’s been about six years since we’ve all become addicted to social networks, but this friend — for story purposes, let’s 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. It’s sort of obnoxious, but at this point, it’s 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 he’s caravanning in these days, just open the latest Spin or Rolling Stone, and look at the top artists. I’ll save you the trouble… it’s a folk-revival quartet. WTF, right?

In the Dark, much like Dale’s four or five musical attempts throughout the past decade, strives to be something that’s already been done. It’s 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 don’t buy albums anymore. It’s 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, you’re not listening to In the Dark. The majority of the LP comes off as a cheaper, less interesting knock off of Kings of Leon’s 2008 uber-successful juggernaut, Only by the Night. Listen to the opening chords of “Kill Me Carolyne”, for Christ’s sake. Between the cajoling chorus, the atmospheric guitar scales, and the runner’s anthem-like drumming, it’s the poor man’s “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 I’m 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 Chili’s in Texas.

“Black Lotus” similarly tries to snag at those KOL-inspired riffs, only it’s a bit more subdued. Vocal hooks and static drumming line the tune, but Gispert’s honest pitch, which sold us on 2008’s Mission Control, is so lost in the mix, it’s hard to feel connected. Producer Ben Allen, the man who made Animal Collective tolerable to the masses with last year’s Merriweather Post Pavillion, manages to strip away the unique parts that made The Whigs distinctive from all the modern garage-rock clutter that’s 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, they’re just filler. Considering the album is a dying art these days, filler is to an album like trans fat is to America’s youth.

There are some things to take away here. “Someone’s 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 it’s the only song where the production actually works. It’s dance-y, sure, but amongst the mess here, it’s 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, that’s only a part of the process, but when it’s so forced and with all the wrong motives (which only seems blatant here), it’s less an effort and moreover a knock-off. It’s 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.

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