If you aspire to critique music, here’s a piece of advice: Never let your first listens to an album be on shuffle. Doing so threatens to undercut artists’ vision or story to be told, and misdirects both writer and reader. Without catching this particular faux pas early in the editorial process, the review you’re reading now of The Whigs’ new album In the Dark might have been vastly different.
The garage-rock power trio from Athens, Georgia earned significant goodwill throughout 2008 on the strength of their second album Mission Control, particularly its lead single “Right Hand on My Heart.” The Whigs start out full of promise here, electing “Hundred/Million” to travel the same dirty, echo-filled path taken by goth revival rockers like A Place to Bury Strangers. On first listen, In the Dark then seemed to grind to an embarrassing halt over the next 38 minutes, with Parker Gispert’s directionless moan and guitar on “Dying” wrapping a thorough bleed-out of album energy.
Thankfully, it was just a switched-on Randomize button, and what followed was evidence of what good album pacing can do. In proper sequence, even “Dying” improves to be just a low valley among peaks of quality while the real album closer, “Naked,” just wanders around in Nada Surf nice-guy rock territory. The interesting bits are spread a little thinner and wider than first thought. The title track and “Someone’s Daughter” are especially crunchy early and late, respectively. The rhythm section of Tim Deaux (bass) and Julian Dorio (drums) reaches its peak on the latter song even if it cribs a bit too much from Smashing Pumpkins’ “Cherub Rock.”
Strangely, though, there isn’t anything else too mind-blowing from Deaux and Dorio—or maybe it’s just that In the Dark seems to live and die by Gispert’s hand. The trio right now recall many American bands with a decent work ethic and prominent frontmen; Dinosaur Jr. and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers leap immediately to mind as sonic familiars. One has to wonder if The Whigs are content in that role.