Athens, Ga., rockers hit their stride The Whigs banged through their first two albums with a rugged energy. It was stuff you wanted to love, but you’d be hard pressed to hum the songs an hour later. On In the Dark the band has paired its roadworthiness with greater ingenuity, and it finally feels like a fuse has been lit. “Kill Me Carolyne” hops around all crazy-eyed, and “I Am For Real” chugs with reflective purpose.
Continuing their trek through the alt-rock battlefield of the ‘90s, the Whigs reach the glory years of post-grunge on their third album, In the Dark. Pumped up with muscular guitars and buffed to a high gloss by producer Ben Allen, who manages to pull a U-turn from his work with Animal Collective, In the Dark is the best album the Foo Fighters never made, with heavy guitars edged out by heavy hooks. Any traces of lingering indie affectations are sanded out -- somewhat ironically so given the presence of Allen, who gives them a veneer that would guarantee them modern rock radio play if such a thing still existed in 2010 -- replaced by a smooth melodic assurance, yet it’s not so beholden to the past to sound stiff.
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.
Referring to any band as a "great college rock band" might strike some as a backhanded compliment, as it often implies more enthusiasm than technical accomplishment. In 2004, the Whigs weren't short of either. At the time, Parker Gispert, Hank Sullivant, and Julian Dorio were enrolled at University of Georgia in Athens, the same town that spawned the quintessential college rock band, R.E.M.
The one thing the Whigs always had going for them was sincerity. Their music may not be entirely original (think Replacements' rock filtered through R.E.M.’s twang), but they made it connect with a happy-to-be-here enthusiasm. They’re one of those bands that people said had to be seen live to be appreciated, and that’s for good reason; they played even the shittiest clubs with a kind of fervor that seemed counter to the fact that they had been touring hard (and for little pay) for many years.
What a shame that a technically competent trio like the Whigs has released such a dispirited record. This is not an observation about theme - the record is unremarkable in both sound and execution. "Robotically bland" is a fitting description of the effort, especially track Automatic. [rssbreak] Parker Gispert's removed, flat vocals add no uplift to post-grunge tracks like Someone's Daughter.