Album Review: White Denim – Stiff

I’m not sure when it first occurred to me, but I’ve now spent many years coming to terms with the fact that I have a problem with rock and roll. Or at least rock and roll in the context of the phrase ‘That’s so rock and roll!’. You see, when used in that context, it means that the person being referred to as rock and roll (either by themselves or others) is simply an arrogant prick with a big mouth, a certain level of media notoriety, but more often than not, precious little in the way of anything approaching redeeming qualities.

For me rock and roll is that point where the music starts and the bullshit stops. Yeah, you might be considered to be ‘rock and roll’, but does that translate into you making great music?

That’s where White Denim are doing so well at the moment. The artwork and title of Stiff suggests an embracing of Ween-levels of irony, and the fact that 50% of the band that recorded 2013’s Corsicana Lemonade having departed to record with Leon Bridges, Stiff shows no signs of being an album recorded by a band undergoing significant changes, instead it is a groovy, riff-laden, statement of everything that rock and roll should be. From James Petralli’s soulful vocals, to the band’s evident love of Southern-rock style guitar choogle aided by newcomer Jonathan Horne, to the way that bass player Steven Terebecki has instantly clicked with new drummer Jeff Olson to form a rhythm section that sound like they’ve been playing together since birth, White Denim are a band that don’t have to convince you how rock and roll they are by way of vaguely controversial ‘look at me’ soundbites, they’ve just released a gloriously well judged album of great rock and roll music.

The change in sound since Corsicana Lemonade has been subtle with the Steely Dan-isms dialled down in favour of a simpler soulful funk. When the pace is dropped, such as on a song like the slow psychedelia of “(I’m the One) Big Big Fun”, Stiff still maintains its overall vibe of a band with a psychic connection with each other just kicking back and having fun. The song titles alone indicate that, at this stage in their career, White Denim are a band that, despite their obvious collective virtuosity, aren’t taking themselves too seriously and aren’t trying too hard to try and convince everyone in earshot that they are the second coming of the true spirit of rock and roll. Simply put, they’re going the right way about being a rock and roll band. They’re letting their music do the talking, rather than dropping a trail of self-aggrandising soundbites for the hard of thinking to chuckle at.

I must admit, despite the quality of Corsicana Lemonade, prior to hearing Stiff, the jury was still out on White Denim as far as I was concerned. With their latest album, I’ve been convinced that they are in fact one of the great rock and roll bands of the age. Repeated listens have also convinced me that closer “Thank You” isn’t such a duff tune after all, as I enjoy more each time I listen to it. Stiff is an album that doesn’t try to be any kind of world-changing artistic statement, or change the course of popular music, it’s just a great modern rock and roll album, and really, who could possibly ask for more?

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