How Bad is the New Whigs Album, Really?

Relax, Whigs fans. I don’t think In the Dark is as bad as certain other internet people do. I don’t think it’s bad at all. It’s no Mission Control, but that albums is exceptional, especially compared to other Whigs albums. The Whigs stand accused, by Pitchfork and the Onion AV Club (whose reviews are becoming suspiciously similar of late), of watering down their sound and overproducing their new album in a callous attempt to reach a wider audience. This is the same sniveling bullshit Pitchfork said about the last My Morning Jacket album (which only proves that some people wouldn’t recognize awesome music if My Morning Jacket stuffed a whole album full of it. Which they usually do). That said, though, In the Dark is not great. It’s an okay album where a great one was expected. I see what they were trying to do here (I’m not going to question their motives. Guess what? Every band wants to make money because every band wants to quit their fucking day jobs. And if you’re going to hate the Whigs for In the Dark, you’d better hate Kings of Leon for their last two albums because their first two were vastly different and far superior) and I’m happy when any band tries to expand their horizons. But, though it doesn’t deserve the critical knicker-twisting it has apparently caused, In the Dark satisfies far less than its predecessor.

Why?

So glad you asked. The Whigs, in this reporter’s opinion, have long been a pretty mediocre rock band (not bad, just not great) that managed, with 2008’s Mission Control, to put together something amazingly greater than the sum of its parts. “Right Hand on My Heart,” one of the standout tracks on that album, is also one of the most lazily written songs I’ve ever heard. Sure, I love it, but the truth is the truth and there’s no point sugarcoating it. It seemed to me that, on Mission Control, the Whigs were more interested in rocking out fully than they were about sweating the details – and they still managed some nice dynamics and textures on that record (“I’ve Got Ideas” and the title track come to mind). Now, with In the Dark, the sound is shinier, thanks in part to producer Ben Allen (last year, he produced the Animal Collective record with the one and half songs I like). The roughshod, shambolic sound of Mission Control has been all cleaned up for the ball (or the shameless wooing of FM radio, I guess?)  and the results are not what most of us had in mind.

Let’s be clear, though: there are good tracks on In the Dark. I would go so far as to say the title track is awesome and I actually really like “I Don’t Even Care About the One I Love.” The problem is, for the first time on any Whigs album I’ve heard, there are actually bad songs. “Kill Me Carolyne” is annoying, “I Am For Real” is cloying, and “Naked” is needlessly long. If you want a scorecard, I’d say In the Dark has three really awesome tunes (“Someone’s Daughter” being the third), four bad ones, and four mediocre ones. If you could bump three more mediocre tunes into the good column, I bet you’d get much better notices for this album. For the sake of contrast, I count seven to eight awesome tracks on Mission Control, and the rest are mediocre at worst. No outright bad songs on that album. So people are probably right to be a little disappointed in In the Dark.

But…

Let’s not be the nattering nabobs of negativity that so frequently dominate the internet (just the other day, Band of Horses posted yet another free video from Infinite Arms to their Facebook page. Lots of positive comments. Except this one guy who was all, “You shouldn’t have so much nature in your videos if you want to make money.” Lord help me, I want to find that guy and punch his cock into oblivion. A band you like just gave you a free taste of an album that is still almost two weeks from release and you want to talk marketing with them? What kind of asshole are you?), just for a second. Okay? What’s positive about In the Dark? What can we love, apart from those three awesome tracks (seriously, “In the Dark” is so good I listen to it two or three times every time I come through the album)? Well, the Whigs did go for a bit of a change in sound – more bass-driven, dancey stuff on this record. If – and this might be a big “if” – if they can weld that stuff to the rougher rock sounds of their past, they might really be onto something musically. But Parker Gispert and company need to get a little more disciplined in the songwriting department (some songs have things called bridges in them, guys. You might want to look that up). And, I’ve never seen the Whigs live, but their live reputation is pretty solid. I’m willing to bet In the Dark sounds all right live (I could be wrong, but I’ll try to see the Whigs live and then get back to you) – if it doesn’t, then there’s a real problem.  Speaking of live performances, more good news: there’s a theory floating around cyberspace that touring with Kings of Leon had a big effect on how the Whigs approached making In the Dark. If that’s the case, I can’t wait to see what the Whigs do after supporting the Hold Steady this summer. Perhaps their next album will be their best yet.

Will In the Dark win the Whigs new fans? I’m kinda skeptical. It might win over those rare musical fans who just seem to like everything. I don’t think this album will lose them fans (I guess I can only speak for myself, but I still like this band), but then my expectations of this band are calibrated a little differently. I never expected much from them and they gave me Mission Control. I wasn’t sure what to expect after that, but it wasn’t In the Dark. Here’s the thing: as I listen to this album right now, it sounds pretty good because I’m only half paying attention to it. I’ll tune in for the great songs and distract myself for the other ones. Your goal should never be to make music for people who don’t want to commit to the music they’re listening to, but let’s not shit ourselves over the fact that the Whigs tried something new and wrote a few bad songs. Even the Beatles wrote bad songs, for Christ’s sake.

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