[16 March 2010]
The Whigs’ latest record, In the Dark, finds a fairly hard-nosed Athens, Georgia trio ominously probing the cavernous spaces of an arena rock biosphere. The direction is likely a symptom of touring with their buddies in Kings of Leon, who have attained wild success on the strength of sub-par songwriting and a charismatic lead singer. This is a formula adopted by the Whigs on their new album, on which they also sound like the Killers.
In history, Whigs are members of a long-gone American political party. The name whig originates from the Gaelic whiggamor, meaning cattle or horse drover. Our own century’s Whigs ply their trade deftly, crafting hook-laden songs that are, for the most part, unbelievable. Incidentally, this is a non-hyperbolic usage of the word “unbelievable”. Often times, conversational usages begin to corrode the pliability and nuance of our language. I once had an Economics teacher in high school who would always use the word “incidentally”. He would spend his planning period at the end of each school day sitting in his car reading the paper and watching the clock. He essentially phoned in his career. Incidentally, the Whigs strike me as a somewhat passionate band. I must speculate that they believe in what they do, even if I cannot personally begin to fathom how that’s possible.
The most telling irritation of In the Dark’s primary flaw is the way in which the Whigs blatantly undermine their own already tenuous credibility with the song “So Lonely”, which yokes a seriously lazy lyrical paraphrase of Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ‘69” (excerpt: “She’s bringing me back to 1960 again / When we met on the front porch of her father’s home / Then she said that she’d never leave me / So I said I’d never let her go”) to a legitimately awesome guitar riff. You could call it “rock on autopilot”. It would be a good description. If you asked some space creatures to create an album of banal Earthling arena rock, they might very well create In the Dark using a tentacleful of the simplest mathematical algorithms. I’ve read of the Whigs being compared to the Replacements. It’s why I asked to the review this album. The Whigs do not sound like the Replacements.
“So Lonely” also features a lazy chorus (“Hey! / I don’t want to break down / Why I’m feeling so lonely when you’re around”) that’s delivered with so much self-assurance that it’s almost offensive to hear. It’s a common complaint that this reviewer has with an album boasting the technical precision of an atomic clock. In a year during which we mourn the loss of the writer J.D. Salinger, I find it impossible to resist branding the Whigs as first-class phonies. The problem is, you cannot accurately judge a band if you cannot first comprehend its raison d’être.
Nonetheless, I must conclude that the Whigs’ album In the Dark presents listeners with an emotional vacuum. The Whigs are, undoubtedly, a confident trio of musicians. They play their instruments surprisingly well and are, I suspect, passionate about coming across confidently. However, they have alien standards to the lover of emotional sincerity. This does not mean they are a bad band. Their musical tendencies celebrate the current trends (trends which prevail for a reason—some reason) and their lyrics essentially say nothing. Even still, rock ‘n’ roll shall survive any number of Live Nation darlings like the Whigs. It is a phenomenally resilient art form.