Let the Good Times (Rock and) Roll
If you looked at the flip side of the jewel case for this Athens, Georgia group’s fourth CD, Enjoy the Company, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the entire thing was one big throwback. “Staying Alive”, the opening cut and longest track clocking in at more than eight minutes, might make you think of a certain Bee Gees mega hit. “Thank You” might have you recalling Led Zeppelin’s second album. There’s also a song called “Rock and Roll Forever”, which is a song about, yes, playing rock music, which recalls the work of many rock bands/musicians that sung about rock or being in rock bands, such as Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Velvet Underground, AC/DC and the Ramones. And when you finally put the disc in your player and hear those opening notes to “Staying Alive”, with its stick-in-your-head melody, rolling guitars and jittery saxophone, you might be forgiven for feeling the song was a cover by some long-lost and forgotten ‘70s AM radio band. For some reason, I think about Pilot’s one mid-‘70s hit “Magic” when hearing “Staying Alive”, though the melodies are quite a bit dissimilar. But a similar radio-polished vibe is definitely there. Shrug. Maybe it’s just me.
All in all, Enjoy the Company is one big rock and roll party, partially cribbing from the sounds of yesterday while sounding remarkably contemporary – the whole thing sounds a little Foo Fighters-ish to these ears. Part of the latter might be because lauded pseudo-indie producer John Agnello has a hand in the proceedings, as he did on records for the likes of Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., the Hold Steady and Drive-By Truckers. That is part of Enjoy the Company’s appeal. It sounds like something from a variety of eras, and some credit must be given where credit is due. The songs themselves are actually pretty on the spot, for the most part. There’s nothing here that’s going to alight the rock and roll world afire, but the 10 tracks that bulk up Enjoy the Company are generally pretty melodically tornado-proof, even if they may also be a tad bit inconsequential, if not silly. For instance, first single “Summer Heat” is simply about a friend who gets incarcerated over the triviality of an unpaid speeding ticket after being thrown out of a bar. Hardly the stuff that makes for sterling rock songs, per se, but it is catchy enough in its own way if you don’t pay much scrutiny to the song’s origins. In fact, you might find yourself pumping your fist in the air to it, which is pretty much the sole utility to the piece in question. Which is, of course, not a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all.
What is truly the record’s really remarkable moment is the aforementioned “Staying Alive”: a jammy, meandering piece if there was one. The first four or so minutes of it are remarkably poppy, and have a knack for staying inside your head even after only a couple of listens, and then it turns into an impressive improv smack-down without running out of steam or running off course. It is a brave move for the band to take: to make what might be arguably their best song on the album and create something paradoxically both radio-friendly in tone and radio-unfriendly in length. I’m sure, though, that an edited version might move many a unit for the band. It’s simply a great late summery, back to school track that brings the rock to the table. The remainder of the album is peppered with consistent material, even if the remaining songs might not be as instantly memorable as “Staying Alive”. The late album track “Couple of Kids” does come close in all of its propulsive giddiness.
The album has quite a few two-and-a-half minute songs, presumably so short to make way for the behemoth that is “Staying Alive”, but they generally go down well as they have consistently catchy hooks and, of course, don’t overstay their welcome. Arguably the best of the batch immediately follows “Staying Alive”. That would be “Gospel”, which has a certain mid-tempo swing to it that is remarkably similar to anything that has come from the hands of Dave Grohl in recent years. Almost as equally impressive is “Tiny Treasures”, which has just the right dash of countrified steel guitar during the chorus. And the acoustic “Thank You” kind of resembles sonically “Wild Packs of Family Dogs” off of Modest Mouse’s beloved The Moon and Antarctica – even though the former is simply a rote love song that just about anyone could have written. Speaking of lyrics, there is the occasional howler, such as on “Thank You”, which actually has a line that goes, “scream if you get bit by the snake in the yard”. Yeah. Not sure if that’s just bad sexual innuendo, or just bad.
Despite that, everything adds up to essentially make Enjoy the Company a decent, and yet strangely fulfilling listen. I find myself with reason to find fault with the record – lyrically, it is nothing spectacular, though it is positively uplifting at times (see “Thank You”) – and yet, I find myself enjoying it – really enjoying it – in equal measure. There are a couple of somewhat duff songs, particularly in the mid-section. “After Dark” is simply OK, though it seemingly goes nowhere during the course of its precisely four minutes, and “Waiting” is kind of rote and by-the-numbers for a rock song. But there’s a great deal to really love and appreciate with Enjoy the Company if you come to it with no expectation at all. Even though the choice of band name itself is rather suspect and may make you reach for a certain group fronted by Greg Dulli, the Whigs have crafted a simply enjoyable record with Enjoy the Company and there is certainly no shame in that. Simply put, Enjoy the Company isn’t an overly grossly spectacular record; it is just good time rock and roll. That’s not embarrassing in the least, and if you’re simply looking for a record to have some fun with, here’s an album that you’ll enjoy being in some company with.