‘more mangy fuzz than a suicide bombing on Sesame Street, sinewy pummelling bass and drums that fill in every available syllable of space‘ – WatchingCattle on Whores‘ Clean.
You know when you go to a party and enter into a conversation with someone then instantly wish you hadn’t? You know the scene…you enter the conversation lightly enough, with fleet of both foot and silvery of tongue. “Hey there, you like the same band I do” goes the nonchalant opening salvo of a soon to be engaging and entertaining exchange for both parties. “You’ve got nice lips, do you mind holding this drink for a second while I adjust my underwear?”. That sort of thing, nice gentle icebreakers. Everything’s fine, they seem congenial enough, they seem bright eyed, bushy tailed, garrulous, engaging – everything is going swimmingly but before you know it you’re sitting on the stairs talking about their ex boyfriend or girlfriend or dead father, or their opinions on seal clubbing or about the trials and tribulations of modern vegan living. Sure, you can see everyone in the next room is dancing to Prince, you can hear Prince, you can even sing along quietly in your head. “56 positions in a one night stand…Get Off” and you think this is a great party. So why the fuck am I stuck here with all this fucking angst? I don’t fucking care about how hard it is to find a decent pair of shoes for a fucking job interview, just wear leather and leave me the fuck alone. You’re tired because you’re not getting enough iron and all the supplements in the world will never taste as good as steak, you want to scream. Lighten the fuck up for christ sake, it’s a fucking party. I know this feeling and you probably do too. I also know for a certainty that every one of my mates knows this feeling because typically it’s me bending their ear about why music has been shit for years and the internet is making things worse. Or how much I hate dogs. Or how much I miss Dublin. Or whatever glum shite I’m harping on about at the time.
That’s kind of what listening to Whores is like.
Angst was discovered circa. 1988 by Kurt Cobain under a bridge in Aberdeen, Washington. Some say he was panning for gold which he was then going to pawn to buy either a new fuzz pedal or some drugs. What he found instead was worth a lot more than gold and changed the face of mainstream rock for the entire 1990s.
What Nirvana managed way back when, was to somehow make it into the mainstream rock arena by playing heavy music which maintained an emotional core. Kurt Cobain was an angsty young man and within the course of 2 major release albums he pretty much made it “okay” to be edgy and sad. Of course by the mid 90s when the sub-Nirvana substandard angst started to flow like out like a geyser of self-centred melancholy and the money flowed in, MTV and its affiliates just became bleaker and bleaker. It all felt a little bit like the tears of the sixteen year old brat whose idiot father dared to buy her the wrong SUV for her 16th birthday.
Then something magical happened. Andrew WK decided to party hard, and Jackass was born and Tom Green started torturing his parents and lo, levity returned to the world and the whole thing got really really stupid and really juvenile. And I loved it all.
Grunge defined the early 90s in the same way that most music of a generation defines them. Those who loved it felt that it spoke about them and to them, and for them those who didn’t they thought it was miserable sludge and that’s fair enough. In the 60s Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan were either geniuses or rabble rousers depending on the view point and everyone from Elvis to the Stones and The Beatles were just trying to get into your knickers young lady. Cobain’s success and subsequent canonisation didn’t just make it okay to be glum. It made it the standard practice. You could practically see the management types with cigars queuing up at the backstage doors in 1994 saying “So kids you want to be taken seriously? Cut yourself and write about drowning – that’s the ticket these days”
What does any of this have to do with Whores?
Well, bear with me. Around the time that Mr WK started partying hard plenty of other bands started to do the same. And most of them were buying massive amps and trying to be louder than civil wars while making a noise which, while loud and discordant, wasn’t so immediately tied to the idea of angst or gloom. Pissed Jeans, Part Chimp, and probably the best example of them all…Lightning Bolt. They dropped the pretence of angst and while still making the size and sort of noise associated with the lineage of Nirvana, Swans, Sonic Youth and the likes they started to make noise you could party ‘til you puke to. They revelled in the sheer size and volume allowed by huge amps and extreme tempos. Whores fit somewhere along this trajectory. They too revel in the world of noise rock. They are clearly having a ball making a huge all encompassing piece of sound. There’s all the hallmarks here, more mangy fuzz than a suicide bombing on Sesame Street, sinewy pummelling bass and drums that fill in every available syllable of space, it’s all played at varying up tempos and it all sounds like ….well…. fun. It’s big, it’s ballsy and it should be a lot of fun. But therein lies it’s downfall.
Once the vocals arrived I was pleased. Oh good I thought it’s not the cookie monster voice which I fucking loathe. He’s actually singing. Well fair play to him. Good lad. After a few seconds though I started to notice that far from the acerbic wit and playful guile you’d associate with their hard partying noise rock brethren like Part Chimp, or Pissed Jeans instead the singer here is determined to talk to you about the voices in his head, or about how hard it is for him to stand up (and not in a hard partying “I’m fucking wrecked man” and then vomit down your top like a gentleman kind of way either). On the opening track he even sings about going out and getting wrecked but somehow I’m not reaching for my coat and keys.
Oh no he’s ‘serious’. But unfortunately his brand of serious, the timbre of his voice, his accent, his delivery…it doesn’t really add up to convince you of this angst of his. When Cobain sang it sounded like a confession, here it just sounds like a performance. An act. and a poor soap opera actor’s delivery at that. I have nothing against misery. I love misery. I am that bore at your party after all, but here the pleas seem to be ‘take me seriously’ rather than ‘help me’ and unfortunately it jars completely with the joy in noise that the rest of the music creates. If you are going to write songs about voices in your head etc. and sing with an earnest angst the music should probably fit with this angst or at least have some sort of relation to it. Here I get the feeling that lyrically and vocally the singer just went for the stock and trade loud = neurotic and melancholic formula and unfortunately for me it sinks the entire record. It’s a pity because sonically this is large and robust stuff and they do have their moments. The production is typically colossal post-Albini minimalist heft. I’d imagine they’re great craic live and to be fair you could probably have a few cans with them without ending up knee deep in tears on the stairs. They do veer far to close to their influences at times and some moments completely miss the mark and end up sounding like derivative pastiche, but that can be forgiven. The sense, however, that something in there is unauthentic, that the angst is artifice…that I’m afraid can’t be forgiven quite so easily.