The Whigs have finally produced something to be judged. After three years of live shows around the Southeast, the Athens trio has released a palpable, listenable album, a document of its existence, the pudding wherein the proof lies.
Dispensing with the suspense and any sort of formal grading system, the Whigs' debut -- which showcases their frank Southerness, impeccable nose for hooks and boyish exuberance -- is a singular success. And that's despite a few attempts by the band to make you hate it.
The snotty, agro, unfortunate title Give 'em All a Big Fat Lip is a reaction to the pressures of being a young band constantly getting unsolicited advice on what to do with itself. The best example is the failed developmental deal with RCA, which fizzled when the label suggested hiring outside songwriters. Still, despite the backstory, the name belies the fact that the Whigs themselves are doe-eyed, fresh-faced and alarmingly not intimidating -- at least physically.
Musically, it's another matter. The 11 songs here crib, reflect and pay homage to the breeziness of the Thrills, the shambolic pop imperfection of the Replacements and the lockstep authenticity of Spoon. The slow-rocking "Written Invitation" gets a hazy treatment that separates it from the rest of the album both texturally and vocally -- that's a Fisher-Price mic that singer Parker Gispert is singing into. Frequent live-show attendees will feel most at home with the jangly "Violet Furs," while they'll have to hold on tight during the sped-up "Half the World Away," which overcomes its jarring opening but never becomes the stunning ballad it is live. The taut, open-road song "O.K., Alright" is the standout, hinting at the band's acquiescence to finally hitting the studio.
The studio in this case was a mansion a stone's throw from Athens' 40 Watt Club, where the band holed up for a few weeks with former UGA kicker-turned-recording engineer Billy Bennett. They borrowed some equipment and bought more on eBay, which they're selling back on the site. The total cost of the record: Nothing.
And they say you can't get sweet, Southern goodness for free.
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