At this point there’s no use in trying to deny it: White Rabbits have mastered the art of mastering Spoon. Spoon are masters of their very own art: making the imperfect sound perfect. Studio talkback, reverb, duff notes – all purposefully done, and all left in the final mix. Every artist has their influences; some just choose and harness them better than others. So it helps that Spoon happen to be a very good band. But it would be meaningless had White Rabbits not shown flashes of their own original brilliance to get themselves to album number three.
Here the ghost of Britt Daniel does still linger occasionally, but if Milk Famous was built entirely on nods to its originators’ favourite band, it wouldn’t add up to much. Instead, it becomes increasingly apparent that White Rabbits are ready to stand on their own feet – coming alive with bursts of their own personality, with a new-found confidence and added muscle to their songcraft. Milk Famous is a rumbling, groove-based record, containing subtle touches that provoke genuine surprise and showcase skill: hypnotic, looping pianos; driving beats and electronics; and dark, brooding baselines. Far more nuanced and textured than its two predecessors, it sounds all the better for it.
Assuming the band figured that some would be unsure of their new direction, the opening one-two punch of Heavy Metal followed by I’m Not Me is a clever move. The former, a testing, patient song – nothing more than a gentle, repetitive piano, airy vocals, and a languid bassline; the latter, a crowd pleasing, riff heavy, piano thumping banger – hark back to the aggressive sound of their debut. Yet, good song though it is, I’m Not Me comes across as a slight hesitation, a look over the shoulder, reducing the impact of what was an impressive, brave opening.
Better is Hold It To The Fire a sultry number which brings to mind some of the highlights on Radiohead‘s The King Of Limbs. It features another wonderful, rolling bassline, which twists its way around the refrain “Hold me to the fire”. The lyrics retain this quality throughout, often with repeated phrases or words which burrow their way into your head and stay there. It’s a trick which works best on recent single Temporary. An obvious choice of teaser, Temporary sees White Rabbits in full Spoon swagger mode. Heavily distorted guitars and a propulsive drumbeat make it seem very busy, but on this song – and the same is true of most of the album – the space and silences are just as important as the noise. Guitars, drums, and pianos all drop in and out of the mix at will, allowing the listener up for some much needed air, and creating a brilliant tension, awaiting the next sound to come along. It also enables frontman Stephen Patterson’s vocals to occasionally come to the fore, and that’s fine, for he has a beautifully soulful croon.
The final song on the album sees the band open up lyrically: “Was a long shot/ But nevermind/ It was the greatest mistake of all time.” It’s a rare personal moment shared; someone, whoever it is, has messed up – but the realisation follows as “I had it coming” is repeated again and again, until there is nothing left to say. Apologies, realisation, everything has to come to a definite end at some point; White Rabbits have gone some way towards finding such a point of their own. Influences and musical inspiration are fine in their place, but there comes a time when a band needs to emerge from the shadows and begin to tread their own path. Milk Famous is the start of that process for White Rabbits – a deeply impressive, exciting sign of things to come.