[17 June 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
When we last checked in with the Whigs, a band from Athens, Georgia, that has since relocated to Nashville, the group had issued its fourth album, 2012’s Enjoy the Company, and there were two things that stuck in my mind upon hearing it. First, the horns. Second, the band’s tendency to rely on name-checking previous bands with song titles such as “Thank You” and “Staying Alive”. Thankfully, this band has excised those influences from its professional recording life, and now, on the trio’s fifth album, Modern Creation, the results are a little more spectacular. This is a meaner, leaner, and a little bit darker Whigs than we’ve been used to in the past, even if this album sounds a little bit like Kings of Leon hopped up on a great deal of speed. Modern Creation is the sort of thing that is not going to win any awards any time soon, but it is, at least, highly enjoyable in a “Let’s drive out on the highway and roll those windows down” kind of way. Modern Creation is a fun album—nothing less and nothing more—and your enjoyment of it may vary based on how much pleasure you want to have in your life. Still, it’s a bit of a step up from Enjoy the Company, even if that step up is incremental at best.
This statement of intent is perhaps best summarized on opening cut “You Should Be Able to Feel It”. With its cutting guitars and take-no-prisoners attitude, the song has a swagger to it—not quite in Stones territory maybe, but a swagger nonetheless. It simply rocks and rolls, and is pretty much all you could ask for from a band such as the Whigs. “Asking Strangers for Directions” continues that vein, with its tumbling beat and dirty, Southern rock guitars. There’s a gallop here that works to the band’s favor, and you might find yourself nodding to this, as opposed to, say, nodding off. “The Particular”, on the other hand, might be the band’s singular misstep on the album, which is not to say that it’s a bad song—it’s just that the group’s reliance on a chorus of “hey!” repeated draws to mind, at least in my head, someone goosestepping and shouting “sieg heil!”, which is, um, embarrassing. Probably not the way to be taken, but I just can’t get that image out of my mind.
“Hit Me”, on the other hand, is a jangly piece of power pop that recalls the work of fellow Athens heroes R.E.M. to some, though you will never mistake this as a song by Michael Stipe and company. Still, it’s an endearing gem. “Now you build me up / To break me down / Gently” goes a lyric on the song, and you have to wonder if this is a jab at the outfit’s critics. Despite that, it’s not a bad song. And the title track continues on in this manner, being an infectiously jangly piece of pop. You can’t help but think of the Kinks during this track, which would indicate slavish hero worship, but the song works despite itself with a shimmery guitar line during the chorus that seems resolutely post-punk. Meanwhile, “Friday Night” has a punk energy to it and is absolutely frantic. “She Is Everywhere” starts out very briefly as a stab at sludge rock, before picking up the beat, and it becomes apparent that in, some ways, this is a drummer’s record, especially as the tempo shifts during the chorus. “Too Much in the Morning” seems routinely familiar—there are a few chords that feel nicked from somewhere, but I can’t think of where—but, still, positively affecting. And so it goes.
Basically the entire album’s statement of intent could be summed up with the oft-quoted lyric, “I just wanna run forever / And I want to rock ‘n’ roll.” That’s it, that’s all for the Whigs this time out, but this lack of ambition (or perceived lack of ambition) actually does the music a greater service for once. While the Whigs, in the past, were content to reference the musicians that directly influenced them, they’re now content to more or less ride their own wave—which is quite refreshing to hear. Without other influences directly dropped into their songs in an overt way, Modern Creation is a much stronger, more cohesive and appealing effort. As noted above, it’s not going to take home Grammy Gold, but it does its job well and moves out of the way of its big rock hooks, when it needs to. I found myself enjoying this even more than their previous effort, and while it’s not going to set the world alight on fire, it’s still an entertaining and pleasurable listen. This is the kind of record, if not to take in the car with you, then to listen to on a Friday afternoon, knocking back a few beers after a long week’s worth of work. Modern Creation ups the ante for the Whigs, and it’s good to hear them—while still somewhat referencing the work of others—scaling back the ambition and simply delivering honest to goodness great rock tunes. Who could ask for more?