Usually when bands strip off all extraneous production values from their work and recreate a large chunk of it in acoustic form, it’s at the behest of MTV Unplugged. All hail Whirlwind Heat, then, for doing it off their own back, producing a lovely little slice of Christmas joy for anyone out there with the sense to like to them (and if you didn’t know you did, now is the time for enlightenment).
Released on Christmas Day, I Fucked Up Types of Wood is, you see, essentially Whirlwind Heat Unplugged. It takes their album Types of Wood, released in April 2006, and recreates it track for track with acoustic versions, live versions, kazoo versions and demos. We’ve had a taste of this already in the form of I Fucked Up Reagan on 2006’s Reagan EP, and now they’re inviting us back for more.
Rather than fuck up these songs, of course, the stripped back treatment does in fact improve on them. Quite considerably in many cases. While it can be argued (mostly by fools) that in their usual form Whirlwind Heat are average Americana carried along more by a Jack White endorsement than anything they have to offer themselves, this even quirkier, even more idiosyncratic re-evaluation could give Nirvana Unplugged a run for its money, and there aren’t a lot of albums that can say that.
There are plenty of parallels to be drawn between David Swanson’s outfit and the former Grunge kings at their most sensitive, not least in the deliciously dark and tortured underbelly that exists in many of the songs. I Fucked Up Gene Pool Style sounds like a lost Smog B-side, I Fucked Up Slugger is more playful. The ghost of The Handsome Family permeates the album throughout, sugar sweet one moment, molasses evil the next, a first cousin of Pulp under the influence of Scott Walker and we all know how good that can be. This is nowhere more apparent than on the gunshot effects of Reagan and My Electric Underwear.
Like The Handsome Family, Whirlwind Heat are far more than the novelty band they sometimes teeter on the edge of falling into being and, like those other novelty meisters Denim/Felt/Go Cart Mozart, they get away with it by turning out songs that are eminently listenable and whose lyrics make you laugh – or snigger in a way you know you should have grown out of at 14 but are secretly quite pleased you didn’t.
I Fucked Up The Sun Is Round is a perfect example of this, bass-heavy, summery and heart-beatingly beautiful, especially where it segues perfectly into the similar I Fucked Up French. I Fucked Up Nylon Heat becomes a paranoid acid trip gone wrong, fuzzy feedback beneath a relentlessly minimal synth. This is a band who can make hand bells sound truly evil. I Fucked Up Tight could be The Velvet Underground with a sense of humour.
If you’re still wanting more, look only to I Fucked Up The Umbrella People. Not only does it have the best song title of the month, it also has the best kazoo solo you’ll hear this year. What more could you ask for at Christmas time?