White Denim – ‘Stiff’ Review

The eccentric Texans’ sixth album comes with cheesy ’70s licks and a strong whiff of motor oil

It may never have been a vaulting ambition, but after six bites of the cherry, White Denim have made an album Alan Partridge would truly love. The quartet, from Austin, Texas, have been on the peripheries of a breakthrough for almost a decade, with each album strengthening their cult appeal. Perhaps ‘Stiff’ is the one to propel them into the mainstream (or perhaps not).

Recorded with Ethan Johns (Kings Of Leon, The Vaccines), it infuses an overt Doobie Brothers influence with the intoxicating whiff of Castrol GTX, a heady miasma for any proudly anachronistic geezers out there. It’s the sound of ’70s Man, smoking in the car, untethered from the prescriptive menace of the seatbelt, rolling along the M25 singing his head off to Peter Frampton.

Opener ‘Had 2 Know (Personal)’ lashes along like a convertible with the top down, only spoiled by the fact you can easily imagine Jeremy Clarkson’s enormo-noggin poking out of the chassis. ‘Holda You (I’m Psycho)’ even sounds like the theme to Top Gear at the outset, before tussling away like a pair of pissed cowboys fighting as they fall down the stairs. ‘Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)’ is propelled by the emphatic tinkling of a tambourine, a neoteric Northern Soul number just waiting to be ordained a classic. So far, so blokey.

‘There’s A Brain In My Head’, the first track to thankfully break with parentheses, slows the pace and drips with the spirit of late Scottish AOR merchant Gerry Rafferty. ‘Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love)’, is an Isley Brothers-inspired venture into what Flight Of The Conchords liked to call Business Time and by the conclusion White Denim could do with a cold bucket of water chucked over them. ‘I’m The One (Big Big Fun)’ is laid-back with intermittent flourishes of wah-wah – you can almost smell the super-skunk and petunia.

White Denim wear their virtuosity proudly and with each album their brand of bluesy, Southern-style boogie-woogie becomes less obscured by experimentation, although whether or not that’s a good thing is a moot point. This is certainly the kind of music punk had to be invented for. It probably won’t make it onto the Radio 1 playlist, but don’t be surprised if something from ‘Stiff’ pops up on Mid Morning Matters. Ahhaaaaaa!