The one thing the Whigs always had going for them was sincerity. Their music may not be entirely original (think Replacements' rock filtered through R.E.M.’s twang), but they made it connect with a happy-to-be-here enthusiasm. They’re one of those bands that people said had to be seen live to be appreciated, and that’s for good reason; they played even the shittiest clubs with a kind of fervor that seemed counter to the fact that they had been touring hard (and for little pay) for many years.
But now there’s In the Dark, the band’s third -- and unmistakably worst -- album. After touring with bands way bigger than they (Kings of Leon, the Kooks), the Whigs decamped to deliver an album that might truly earn them that spot beneath Kings of Leon on the show posters -- in a bad way. You’d be hard-pressed to find an album that was ruined more by a band spending a lot of time on the road. In the Dark is a big, loud, dumb record, filled with songs about not respecting women you bang on the bus (“Someone’s Daughter”), feeling empty inside (“So Lonely” and “I Don’t Even Care About The One I Love”) and being for real (“I Am For Real”). This used to be a band that did oblique love songs of longing and twitchy songs about seeing girls on TV, and now we get “Kill Me Carolyne,” a song ready-made for an Axe commercial.
It’s hard to decide who exactly should be blamed for this one. Lead singer Parker Gispert, usually the band’s unsung hero (drummer Julian Dorio gets most of the pub for his ability to sound like four drummers at once), should probably shoulder most the blame. His lyrics were never that deep, but he mails it in something fierce here (which, coincidentally, also applies to Kings of Leon’s third and fourth albums), shooting for the bleachers in as shrewd a manner possible. Every chorus can be reduced to the song title repeated a half-dozen times, with Gispert doing his old wail-and-shout with less than peak enthusiasm. But producer Ben Allen might be the loud and muffled assassin here, leveling everything off till this sounds like All American Rejects crossed with the worst bro-rock from 1997. In the Dark might make the Whigs more palatable to people who thought they were too soft circa 2005, but at it comes the cost of everything that made them good to begin with.
2008’s Mission Control took the Whigs to a much grittier and faster-paced world of rock than their 2005 debut, Give ‘Em All a Big Fat Lip, and In the Dark is the same sort of creature. Featuring tighter production and harder drumming, yet still grungy and distorted, In the Dark strives to capture more of the Whigs’ onstage fervor while still maintaining pieces of the band’s original sound.