There will always be a few anal naysayers who maintain otherwise, but 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the birth of punk rock, the globe-straddling pandemic which started as an in joke by an ageing Ted and his coterie of sleazoid art-school dropouts, before scratching the eyes out of taste and decency.
It’s one of those few moments where history was written by the losers, but nowadays its totems are being gathered up unto Dog at an unnerving rate, and the pitchforks of revolution have been battered into interesting coffee table conversation pieces. Earlier, one of its most attractive values was an enervating sense of open, that anything went and that virtuosity was a cat sicking up a fur ball. In that utopian version of the movement there were no benchmarks, no expectations, no feeding of the ego by acknowledgement, no artist-audience relationships. The performers simply were.
White Lung singer Mish Barber-Way thinks this has led to a modern day scene nihilism which, put bluntly, is horseshit. In an interview on the band’s website he poured scorn on the blinkered, saying: “There’s this really stupid attitude only punks have where it’s uncool to become a better songwriter”, before then claiming: “In no other musical genre are your fans going to drop when you start progressing.”
Progression of course is all a matter of subjectivity and degree: ‘Paradise‘ is White Lung’s fourth album, the follow up to 2014’s ‘Deep Fantasy‘ – a record which broke them free from the confines of playing hole-in-the-wall clubs and provided a platform for touring around the world. In some circles this might be perceived as a rejection of the manacled artistic Status Quo, but on the contrary rather than chastened by the experience and yearning for a return to their roots, the band’s next instalment is a monument to kicking the funk of mediocrity right between the legs.
This is not to say that the trio – Barber-Way, guitarist Kenneth William and drummer Anne-Marie Vasilliou – are doing so by compromise, but instead through consciously honing their attack. Here, supposedly gestalt strictures are torched, freedom fought with splatter patterns of speed and jagged, air-pummelling riffs as on opener ‘Dead Weight‘, where they plough the wide open road, Barber-Way’s drawling purr even sharper than the past we’ve already forgotten.
Like Savages, White Lung are wary of being too closely associated with the past (The Distillers, Hole) but there’s too much jump-up ferocity here for that short sightedness, ‘Demented‘ flirting in its visceral extremes with metal, the title track’s two minutes of adrenalin junkie hardcore closer to too many veins, the final couplet ‘So Desolate/So Desolate/So…’ both a question and a statement.
Having recently married, Barber-Way’s muse she claims is now coming not from her own direct experience but through other people, both real and imaginary, straddling vicariousness and characterisation. Sometimes, in this half-world, things can bite down harder but during ‘Below‘ the pace slows and the dry ice hisses out, the song about female beauty being experienced by the woman rather than consumed by observers. As well as reflection though there are also parables about the left changed or damaged, craven wicked such as the disowned débutante of ‘Kiss Me When I Bleed‘, whose Blackest sheep status is one she celebrates with: “I will give birth in a trailer/Huffing the gas in the air/Baby was born in molasses/Like I will even care”, the shame all that of the judgemental other.
For White Lung, punk virtues mean more than operating in ever decreasing artistic circles to please a handful of fickle shadows. This isn’t a case of scorching their own earth, merely wanting to look up at the stars from something other than a gutter. And they can still smack obsessively: on ‘Hungry‘ the subject is living a lie, suppressing desires which whirl around him, conjured in chords that mark the trio at their most accessible yet.
Even in totality its nothing as bourgeois as a statement of intent of course, but whilst ‘Paradise’ is still a vision all of their own, for White Lung it means the days of having something to prove to anyone but themselves is long gone.