Thursday, April 14, 2022

One door. Two songs.

Melbourne, Australia's Romero and Kansas City, Missouri's Whiffs write tuneful, amped-up, riff-driven songs, Romero's noise sweetened by lead singer Alana Oliver, the Whiffs' by AM radio hooks. Both bands prove that guitar-driven rock and roll is in good hands, its future bright (and loud!). Oliver's voice is huge and rangy; she'd likely have the judges of a music competition reality show eating out of her hand, but she'd cut those hands when necessary. To my ears she sounds a bit like Lydia Loveless, minus the twang, and, recorded well by producer Andrew Hehir, her suppleness is never smothered by her band's considerable fire power (brothers Adam and Dave Johnstone on guitar and drums, respectively, Fergus Sinclair on guitar, and Justin Tawil on bass). The Whiffs' muscular sound (Zach Campbell on bass and vocals, Rory Cameron on guitar and vocals, Nic Allred on guitar and vocals, and Jack Cardwell on drums) thickens their songs but the tunefulness remains vivid, and the record's so lovingly recorded by Joey Rubbish—his record collection is practically visible as you listen—that its late-70s analog vibe never sounds contrived or retro. (Ignore the requisite and limiting "power pop" label that critics feel compelled to tag the band with.) These groups' good songs are so good they transcend their influences.

Romero's debut "Turn It On!" just came out; the Whiffs' Another Whiff, their second, came out in 2019. I'm in love with a bunch of tracks on these albums right now, especially these two for the stories that they both tell and hint at. "My Vision Of Love" begins with a nod to Hoodoo Gurus' "Bittersweet," but the singer's so hoarsely charged that within a few bars it's the Whiffs' song only. It's an old story, but so desperately winged that the singer's hungers feel brand new: he's got no money (he "spent it last week"; a great detail, versus the more clich├ęd "last night"). He can't win and yet can't stop himself from ringing her doorbell, his vision of love the only thing that night that's keeping him right. He could use a lucky break or three, and if she'd let him inside then everything might feel not only possible, but likely. The guitar solo, as in the best rock and roll, declaims everything that he can't, threatening to derail things until that passionate chorus returns.
The Whiffs
Romero
Great, sexy stuff, yet Romero's "Halfway Out The Door" offers another the other perspective. The POV switched to The Vision herself, who's opened the door for this panting guy many times, but lately to diminishing returns. The song opens with a three chord sequence that mirrors "My Vision Of Love" but raises a skeptical eyebrow. In the Whiffs tune the singer's desperate to see her face; in Romero's tune we're seeing the back of his head. This is her turn, and her complaints are as old as his pleas: I’d tell you how I loved you / But you’re always halfway out the door / We aren’t like what we were before. In the powerful and affecting chorus, guitars ringing, echoing the singer's resolve, she makes things clear:
If this isn’t what you want, baby
Don’t come knocking, knocking, knocking, knocking
If you’re halfway out the door
Oh no, I won’t be calling no more
He always "howling in the street"—I mean, the Whiffs' singer practically admits it—and she's pissed and sad about it all. "How did we ever end up this way?" she wonders, "the first to call each other insane." The song's pace is measured, and I think that that's key: if the band had worked their way through these complications at a breakneck pace, careening around the corners, the couple would just as likely keep moving toward each other, burning each other out, unable to turn away from the heat and lust. But I'm pretty sure that she's figured out her next move; though she's in conflict—she loves him and fucks him, though he's too often halfway out that door—her song's slowed to the point of a reckoning, a deeper breath. She's considered things. His time's running out.

~~

Two continents, two bands, two songs, a bunch of the same chords. One man, one woman, three stories. 

Maybe I'm a pessimist, imagining the Whiffs' singer's desperation to score with his vision—or just to see her in an open door—burning out in ambivalence, the age-old tale of the man who can't stick the landing, who's gotta move on, restless. I love that songs collide in the air above my head, the reverberations telling a new story. (Both bands write about ambivalence and contradictions really well: check the mixed-up man and the "undone" woman in "On The Boulevard" and "Petals," respectively.) Some days I listen to "My Vision Of Love" and the two end up in bed; sometimes I listen to "Halfway Out The Door" and the two end up in bed, but the satisfaction's waning, because both of their looks are directed at that front door she opened to him last night. For him it'll open again. For her it may close for the last time. 

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