The Whitest Boy Alive’s name is kind-of-ironic, but also kind-of-not.� Frontman (and occasional King of Convenience) Erlend Øye might possess the fair complexion you’d expect from a northern European, but the music he makes with The Whitest Boy Alive is funkier, more danceable, and hence less overwhelmingly ‘white’ than you’d expect from a prima facie indie band.
But, on the other hand, The Whitest Boy Alive can’t escape their innate indieness.� This is dance music created within the parameters of rock: each track is built upon on a solid guitar-bass-drums foundation, the lyrics are uniformly polite, and only one song here goes beyond the five-minute mark.� Listening to their music is a bit like watching a reluctant dancer trying, and failing, to set aside their self-consciousness.
The music on Rules (the follow-up to 2006′s sleeper hit long-player Dreams) is rigid like a Meccano set.� Guitar, bass, drums and keyboards share space, but are kept separate and distinct, as if frightened of stepping on each other’s toes.� Together, though, the instruments conspire to form pleasant grooves: each and every track here is what the over-fifties might deem a ‘toe-tapper’.
At its best, the music achieves a pleasing coolness, reminiscent of 1980s ‘cocktail pop’ like the much-derided Curiosity Killed The Cat and even Sade.� If you find those comparisons more repellent than alluring, you might dismiss this with the dreaded term ‘coffee table’: background music for stylish social gatherings.
With music as tight and orderly as this, some nimble songwriting is essential to prevent ennui setting in rapidly.� Unfortunately, much of Rules isn’t up to the task. �There’s nothing here as exciting as Burning from Dreams – still their best track by a million miles. �Indeed, there’s nothing here as exciting as most contemporary music.� The repetitive grooves become a bit, well, repetitive, and Øye’s unfailingly well-mannered vocals provide almost zero variation.
Courage is probably the album’s best track.� Although starting off according to type – tidy-yet-funky guitar, bubbling bass, metronomic drumming – it goes off on a nicely unexpected tangent with some mid-nineties-vintage synth stabs and Øye repeating the titular refrain with something approaching urgency. �Elsewhere, Gravity features call-and-response backing vocals – a welcome touch in any song, and especially so in the context of an album as consistent (translation: ‘samey’) as this.
Gravity is also the album’s meatiest track lyrically – it alludes to some emotional turmoil, with Øye accusing a love rival, “You only want to be with her because she’s mine / You will lose me as a friend if you cross that line”.�� But, generally speaking, the lyrics on Rules are non-descript and unwilling to draw attention to themselves.
Listening to Rules is a surprisingly boring experience.� At several instances throughout this album you wish someone would let rip with a guitar solo, fire off a rave horn or just do something to liven up proceedings.�� Ultimately, then, the band’s name isn’t ironic at all: this is white music – it’s pallid, bloodless and in need of a holiday to somewhere hotter than Rules’ grey musical landscape.