The Pale White are a trio hailing from Newcastle, featuring vocalist/guitarist Adam Hope, his brother Jack on drums, and Tom Booth on bass. They’re a band that answers the question, “What if Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age had been raised on hard rock and Britpop instead of hard rock and blues?” Their debut album explores that idea, using many heavy rock tropes, some thick grooves, and an occasional burst of pop hooks.
Infinite Pleasure opens with the title track, and the ominous sound of violin strings being scraped, and a simple but tension-filled guitar riff. Adam comes in singing softly, and the song doesn’t really kick in until the one-minute mark when the whole band enter and Adam and Booth crank up the distortion. The second verse begins after what’s essentially a half-chorus, this time including vocal harmonies, more percussion, and a touch of violin (or is it a cello?). The song continues to grow and shrink in volume and arrangement, leading to an extended bridge. The bridge climaxes with a high-speed drum and bass duet that lasts for about 10 seconds and sounds like it’s about to lead to an unusual fast coda that doesn’t sound like the rest of the song. But the Pale White back off of this and return to the main groove.
One of the things the band does well is varying their sound between songs, which keeps the album moving at a brisk pace. So even though the pounding groove of “Infinite Pleasure” is followed by another heavy, fuzzed-out riff for the intro of “Glue”, the lighter, singsongy verses set it apart significantly from the opening track. The sprightly “Confession Box” is driven by a prominent bassline and Adam’s catchy vocals, while acoustic guitar chords and sustained electric guitar tones give the song an upbeat tone. It even fits in a pounding, soaring bridge, which may be the brightest musical moment on the album. “That Dress” bounces along on a shuffle beat, complete with a swinging bass rhythm. Meanwhile, the vocal melody is catchy enough here that Adam uses it as his main guitar riff as well.
There are, however, moments on Infinite Pleasure when the band doesn’t quite prove up to the challenge of tackling so many different styles. The ballad “Anechoic Chamber Blues”, which is largely just Adam singing and gently strumming a clean electric guitar, ends up less like a gripping confessional than rather limp and boring. On the other end of the spectrum, the high-speed “Sonder” should crackle with energy. But its guitar riff and vocal melody are so bland that all of the accouterments (fuzz guitar solo, cowbell, mid-song slowdown) aren’t enough to help the song achieve liftoff.
Thornier is the case of “Medicine”, which operates as the big, bruising centerpiece of the album. It has a heavy drumbeat and bass riff, which is often echoed in the guitar. It builds to a big, effective chorus, despite some awkward lyrics. “Give me that medicine / What a waste to suck that sedative” is an unusual turn of phrase that didn’t quite work for me. The other thing that sticks out about “Medicine” is the influences it wears on its sleeve. It opens with a few seconds of solo tambourine in a way that’s highly reminiscent of the Queens of the Stone Age single “My God Is the Sun” and uses a similar guitar tone. But instead of going into a barnburner of a song, “Medicine” slides into a midtempo groove that reminds me of the Pale White’s fellow UK rockers (and former tourmates) Sea Girls and their track, “Shake”. And “Shake” is a song that begins with almost the same intro as Foo Fighters’ hit single “My Hero”. These kind of similarities are to be expected here and there, but it’s kind of rare to have a song hit those triggers so distinctly.
Infinite Pleasure wraps up with “Still No Taste” and “Frank Sinatra”. The former is a 35-second acoustic reprise of the chorus of “Medicine”, possibly more effective with the sonic similarities to other songs removed. “Frank Sinatra” is a nearly seven-minute-long closing jam that takes its time to get going. Its languid pace, plaintive vocals, slow build, and background spaciness seem pegged to ’70s era Pink Floyd, at least in the beginning. But it hits a key change at the halfway point that suddenly makes the song a dead ringer for Collective Soul’s ’90s hit “The World I Know”. Going from a general Pink Floyd influence to a particular ’90s alternative rock song is a weird way to end the album.
This is overall a solid debut record for the Pale White. They try out a bunch of different things while still staying grounded in heavy hard rock grooves, and most of them work. All three members are strong musicians, but the songwriting isn’t quite to the point where the band have figured out how to make themselves sound like a distinct, unique unit. But Infinite Pleasure is a fun album to listen to, and the variety keeps it from getting staid.