White Hotel’s Ken Low is a troubled soul. His love? Done left him. His faith? Now only in the holy spirit of rot-gut red. His horse? Boiled up for stew, out in the badlands where singing guitarists test their mettle and are always found wanting.
You want to love his record. All sparse twangs and sudden electrified menace, it travels the unforgiven territory of [a]Calexico[/a] or [a]PJ Harvey[/a]. Its sombre moods are marked out by the deathwatch beetle percussion of a Frenchman who once had something to do with Polly herself. Ex Warm Jet Colleen Browne contributes bass thrums and backing croons. Faded grandeur and intimations of violence (eg ‘Killin’ Time‘,’Hangin’ Tree‘) are all present and correct.
Only… Low‘s real trouble is he can’t do Nick Cave for love nor lucre. His opiated guitar surges and subtler instincts – best witnessed on ‘Half A Story‘ or ‘Shame‘ – are artlessly murdered by the blunt instrument of sub-Cave clichi that pervades ‘First Water‘. You don’t know the trouble he’s seen, in the mire. He’s been a bad, bad man, down at the crossroads, sinning.
Basically, Nick took all the pretty horses. Leaving White Hotel with what, unfortunately, resembles a load of old pony.