When people ask what you love about 80’s music, (which any sensible person would often ask, and obviously you would have an answer for as a contributing member of society), what bands come to mind? Your answer to that question will absolutely affect how much you enjoy Victory, the latest release from White Widdow. I’m not sure if there’s a bit of this album that isn’t pulled directly from that glorious age of synths, guitar solos, long blonde-haired men and tight, tight pants. However, how much homage is too much? How much onus is on a band to innovate and reinvigorate?
Throughout the whole album, there are strains of any number of bands from the era. The biggest ones that jumped out at this reviewer were Van Halen (all over the album) and Journey, but there are any number of other influences proudly displayed. “Reach Up” was a particular highlight for me, where everything had a bit more room to stand out. One of the biggest ‘Vegemite’ tricks (fantastic in moderation but when overused, very polarizing) in 80’s rock is to have the melody carried by everything at the same time. When there is a vocal with chorus, as well as synths, as well as guitar all sitting in the chorus of the song, they all tend to hit the same notes, and for me it took some of the interest out of it.
“Reach Up” avoids this by having some simple counter melodies in chorus that play off the verse riffs, allowing it to both differentiate and slide nicely into the verse again. This shows up a little in some of the other tracks, which was really where they shined for me. See “Danced in the Moonlight” and “America” for some other examples of this- it’s not hugely prevalent but it’s there, and it really changes the game for me. Without that space, we are stuck listening to a single melody that’s carried through, and that means that one melody has to be laden with hooks, amazing riffs and powerful vocals. I kept waiting for the lightning to strike, that moment to pull me in, and it never came along.
Some of the other tracks, particularly the ballad “Anything” and the first few tracks make me ask- who is the audience for this? If a revivalist band is not adding something to the sound they’re imitating, nor are they smashing it out of the park with that sound, then it might as well be a cover band. A quick scroll through their back catalogue shows some previous work that I enjoyed a bit more, particularly of their second most recent album Silhouette. The feeling there is fresher, the mix a little less focussed on the vocals and keys, and the hooks stronger. “Run and Hide” is the closest to this for me, but the rest of the album feels like a step back, which is a shame.
The effort has clearly been taken to replicate a cherished sound of the era, and it does, but I question some things. For one, the bass is nearly inaudible in any of the tracks. Though fitting for the era, it is a pity because it’s a sound that’s dominant in the high mids, and a richer bass end would have really added a bit of depth. Ben Webster and Gavin Hill (Bass and Drums) both do fine, but it feels rote, and I would have loved to hear just a few moments for either of them. Enzo Almanzi’s guitar work is fantastic and very in keeping with the genre, but is only really brought forward for “Danced in the Moonlight” which is already one of the more spacious songs. Jules and Xavier Millis, on Vocals and Keyboards, are so far above everything else in the mix that really they need to be exceptional, and for me there was a heap of potential that just didn’t go very far. A great synth sound that sits a little too comfortable within the genre tropes, and vocals that mimic the feel of the era without quite getting the anthemic feel or soaring notes that made so many singers of the time great. I don’t
I’m willing to concede that maybe this album just isn’t for me. My hometown has a cover band in every pub every night, and I’m well into revivalist genres, as well as the 80’s sound. For me, this didn’t hit the mark, but I believe that there is the potential to do so, so if you’re really craving that sound in some new packaging, check out this album. If you’re not sure, maybe check out the back catalogue first.