“I’m here again. Where the road turns. And I don’t know why. I’ve been drifting. Feelin’ dizzy. Chasin’ the same high“. Confusion and substance abuse are interesting themes hinted at but disappointingly never fully explored on Chicago-based Whitney‘s underwhelming second album Forever Turned Around. Whether it’s from a first perspective or trying to support an equally discombobulated friend, lead singer Julien Ehrlich’s lyrics about soul-destroying intoxication and general bewilderment with the world are rather vague and too clichéd to really have a memorable impact. The detour into relationships also weakens a potentially strong concept.
With the exception of the country-twang ‘Day & Night’ which simultaneously sounds like a journal of a band’s road trip and a journey of self-destruction, there is a frustrating repetitive blandness when the protagonist displays his self-depreciating side, confessing about his lonesomeness: “Cause the only life I’ve ever known. Used to be lonely” (‘Used To Be Lonely’) and “Darlin’, I don’t mind. Livin’ my life alone” (‘My Life Alone’), for he admits on ‘Valleys (My Love)’ that he will “fade into the sunset and be gone”.
However, Whitney are most effective when Julien Ehrlich – whose soft falsetto voice makes him sound like a real kind guy throughout – takes on the role of a sympathetic counsellor of a troubled person. On the album’s opener and best track ‘Giving Up’ Elrich admits:’ “I’ve been hangin on because. You’re the only one I love. Even when you’re giving up” and on ‘Friend of Mine’, in which he shows his support but is also trying to get his buddy to snap out of his ignorance: “Turn around now and then you’ll see. That your world’s gonna leave you behind. You’re still a friend of mine. But you’re driftin’ away. Like a cloud hangin’ over the pines.”
What doesn’t help with the listening experience is that ‘Forever Turned Around’ ‘s collection of breezy songs are rather indistinguishable from each other musically and vocally. Its atmosphere is similar to Weyes Blood‘s ‘Titanic Rising’ in its country-influenced very American folk with subtle orchestral coating but lack Natalie Mering‘s ethereal edge or captivating arc, besides the Whitney idiosyncrasy of their trumpet moments, courtesy of Will Miller. Furthermore, whenever there is a moment of unpredictable excitement such as the jazz instrumental ‘Rhododendron’ featuring buzzing wayward sax and groovy guitar, the song ends too soon, a similar problem to the debut Light Upon The Lake.
Nonetheless, Chicago major Lori Lightfoot recently declared that August 30th be Whitney Day in Chicago, which this year included a radio interview and live performances, suggesting that Whitney have already connected with the audiences in their city rather well and that perhaps they are the kind of band that are more musically-pleasing at a concert then hearing exclusively at home on headphones.