I’ve always thought White Lung sound a little bit like The Subways, and maybe Hole – some of the vocal melodies seem almost interchangeable. It’s not a strong resemblance and no rip off, but somewhere in my auditory cortex, there is a link made.
“It all sounds the same” is a common criticism aimed at anything under the umbrella of ‘punk’, which has arguably become a lot more noticeable since Green Day and Blink 182 brought their Diet Coke ‘pop-punk’ to its mainstream pinnacle. Old punks will froth at the mouth explaining the differences between the Sex Pistols and The Clash, but it’ll be harder to find many willing to labour over the distinction between You Me At Six and All Time Low.
It may just be that there’s a limited amount you can really do within the constraints of “mainstream punk”. The problem when you have a simple formula – couple of guitars, fast drums, and a counter-cultural message – that is so deeply integral is that the voices can blur into one, and can often veer dangerously close to self-parody.
“Still, there are those bands that don’t go down the pop-punk route. Case in point: White Lung. […] Punk, if it is making a point, is usually a mish-mash of ideas, dissatisfaction boiled up into quick, sniping aggression”
It hasn’t hurt commercial success – pop-punk makes it way to the climbs of The Billboard pretty regularly. But it’s fairly safe to say it’s had the kind of “got old, boring and greedy” sell-out that every popular rebellion of youth gets fat on. You hear with a sort of soothing frequency the old, “proper” punk stuff over the top of TV adverts. It’s not really their fault – if covering your grandsons mortgage downpayment only requires letting “Choice Hotels” use “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”, then it’s a bit of a no-brainer.
Still, there are those bands that don’t go down the pop-punk route. Case in point: White Lung. They don’t have whiny, American Pie vocals or lyrics like a mumsnet.com post about how it feels to be a teenager – they just had two albums of fast paced, energetic 2-3 minute long tracks. No moping, just a lot of action; incoherent, yes, but that’s the point. Punk, if it is making a point, is usually a mish-mash of ideas, dissatisfaction boiled up into quick, sniping aggression.
Deep Fantasy was unrelenting, punch-in-the-gut music; an album full of brash guitar and crashing symbols. It was more polished, but they carried over the raw energy and urgency so sorely lacking from not only most “mainstream” punk, but mainstream rock in general. Paradise delivers in the same way.
It takes real determination for a band to produce three albums and maintain the intensity throughout, resisting the urge to come out with a couple of broad-pallet, watered down, radio-friendly rock songs. They’ve got some great melodies on their old albums, and they’re definitely not out to avoid exposure, but it’s done in the same way that Kurt Cobain threw some beautiful melodies into some of the ugliest and snarliest Nirvana songs.
“The crucial point about the album – and to a large extent the band in general – is that they are hitting the sweet spot of popular punk without having to dilute it to anything resembling pop-punk”
I doubt any true lover of punk music has ever said the word “accessible” without a contorted grimace, but it’s hard to describe it as anything but – it’s not a bad thing. The two singles from the album, ‘Kiss Me When I Bleed’ and ‘Hungry’ both have choruses that stick in your head.
There’s no cliched, reflective acoustic song toward the end of the album – even with pleasant names like ‘I Beg You’ and ‘Paradise’, both are unrelentingly frantic. ‘Hungry’ is probably the softest of the lot, but it’s all relative – it never sounds diluted; it’s them, but you could hear it on a film soundtrack. There’s clearly a broadening to their sound, but it’s done with a delicate touch – they don’t want to lose face.
“There isn’t any padding out or softening of their lyrics to fit radio play or comfort – it’s ugly and raw, which is exactly what fans of their older material will be expecting”
The song’s cover some coarse themes – even in 2016, writing such assertive music that never falls into line with the common narrative on women as well as self-determination, romance, perceptions of beauty and greed, sounds fresh and relevant. Talking about ‘Kiss Me When I Bleed’, Mish described the song as a “fairytale” – the leading line in the chorus is “I will give birth in a trailer”. There isn’t any padding out or softening of their lyrics to fit radio play or comfort – it’s ugly and raw, which is exactly what fans of their older material will be expecting.
The crucial point about the album – and to a large extent the band in general – is that they are hitting the sweet spot of popular punk without having to dilute it to anything resembling pop-punk. White Lung have focussed on writing excellent music; if that brings fame and success, so be it, but they aren’t out to parody themselves or their genre. On Paradise, they stay true to their sound but develop it in a direction that will appeal to a much wider audience.