Reminds us of:
Allman Brothers, Crosby, Stills and Nash, ZZ Top, 13th Floor Elevators, The Seeds, Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Funkadelic, Prince, Sly and Family Stone, Grand Funk Railroad, T-Rex, King Crimson
I first heard White Denim when they released their ‘Corsicana Lemonade’ album, and so taken was I that I pretty quickly bought up all of their back catalogue. After this, the band split with lead singer James Petralli releasing a solo album as Bop English (also very good) while the drummer and the guitarist went off to work with the crooner Leon Bridges. The follow up album ‘Stiff’ was released at the start of 2016 which apart from the excellent first three tracks is pretty disappointing, and was followed last year by ‘Performance’ which is more consistent and an enjoyable listen but not amazing.
It was therefore with some caution that I approached the new album ‘Side Effects’. The band referred to Corsicana Lemonade as their ‘barbeque’ album, essentially meaning that it was easily accessible music, and I just get the feeling that from then until now they’ve been trying to get more mainstream exposure and dumbing down their music in the process. I’m pleased to say however that Side Effects feels like more of a return to the sound on their classic ‘D’, albeit not replicating the dizzy heights of that album.
The 9 tracks on the album come in at under 30 minutes, and the songs do fly past. Some of the reviews have suggested that they’ve tried to pack too much in and be a little too clever for their own good, which I understand but personally doesn’t bother me. The lo-fi sound that characterises ‘Performance’ persists, but there is far less of an attempt to present their tunes in traditional song structures. Lead singer James Petralli has a phenomenal voice but he doesn’t choose to show it off as much here as he’s done with other albums recently, with tracks like ‘Shanalala’ almost mumbled.
Side Effects kicks off with ‘Small Talk (Feeling Control) at breakneck rocky pace and concludes with the sassy ‘Introduce me’. In between the songs twist and turn unpredictably – Hallelujah Strike Gold for example jumps into Funkadelic territory complete with the ghost of George Clinton (or may be Lee Scratch Perry?) speaking over the top, Headspinning jumps into a Minutemen thrash and so on. A couple of instrumentals - ‘Reversed Mirror’ (a further re-interpretation of the song on ‘Fits’) and ‘Out of Doors’ (a Celtic take on Four Tet) sit in the middle of the record, with the pick of the bunch ‘NY Money’, 7 minutes long to boot. Overall it’s a very good listen, and BBC Radio 6 have already given it their album of the week award.
If you are new to White Denim, have a listen to ‘Side Effects’ or try out Corsicana Lemonade as it is really accessible and a good starting point. Alternatively you could just head straight for their best album ‘D’ which made the ‘1001 albums you must hear before you die’ list. The band still play a number of tracks from D live, so I guess they must like it too. Their first two albums (‘Workplace Holiday’ and ‘Fits’) are quality too, mostly raw and garage band, but also diverse with nods to various other musical genres.
They are also very good live, albeit if an engaging front man is your thing then forget it! I saw them at their gig at the Roundhouse in February and I can’t even remember Petralli even speaking apart from to say ‘thank you’ after a couple of songs. They are however technically impressive musicians and play a fine set, although limiting the three song medley’s to one or two a night might be an idea.
Small Talk from ‘Side Effects’
Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah) from ‘Stiff’
At night in dreams from ‘Corsicana Lemonade’
Back at the Farm from ‘D’.