About 8 or 9 years ago, while writing for a different online music publication, I interviewed both Joshua Block and James Petralli from the original incarnation of White Denim. At that point, their sole release had been the brilliantly frenetic Workout Holiday. It was a ramshackle debut built on a love of 60s garage punk, and the magnificently rowdy result was rather splendid. This was, however, surely destined to be a one-off album, with the band likely to be lost in the ethers of time until their debut album was rediscovered and heralded by a new brat pack of music hacks 30 years later.
Never would I have guessed that White Denim would, instead, go on to release a staggeringly eclectic, ridiculously prolific set of albums that encompassed prog rock, jazz fusion, indie rock, punk and bright, blue eyed soul amongst others. There is little doubt that this willingness to change and adapt is the reason that they are still with us now, nine years and seven albums later. They’re at it again on Stiff, seemingly having morphed into the Spencer Davis Group for ‘Had 2 Know (Personal)‘ and, especially, ‘Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)‘ at least – the two songs which kickstart proceedings this time around. Perhaps even more of a surprise (they never seem to have lost the ability to do that!) is the lip service they pay to the classic Motown sound, most notably Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – maybe even Marvin Gaye, on ‘Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love)‘, and given the knowing smirk of that song’s title, it’s abundantly clear that they are more than aware of the accuracy with which they have pulled it off. Oddly though, it also feels a little like the kind of soul occasionally purveyed by My Morning Jacket, and is a quite gorgeous, and unexpected, mid-section interlude.
There is a veritable cavalcade of riches to immerse yourself in on ‘Stiff’, from the electrifying full throttle of ‘Holda You (I’m Psycho)‘ through the Paul Simon like relative calm of ‘Theres A Brain In My Head‘ or ‘(I’m The One) Big Big Fun‘ (yes, I’m sure you’ve noticed that they seem to be rather a fan of parentheses on this occasion!) right through to the quirky time signatures that begin to lift the final curtain of ‘Thank You‘. Eventually that one becomes a rather more straightforward summer ballad – a four and a half minute heartfelt nod of acknowledgement, perhaps, to the fans that have elevated them to their present level of success.
If the years have taught us anything about White Denim, it’s that if their next album turns out to be a bastard hybrid of industrial hardcore and extreme J-Pop, we needn’t worry. It will probably still sound wonderful.