The Temperance Movement’s main asset is their apparent lack of self consciousness. They display a quality that is rare these days, playing 70’s tinged blues rock seemingly without any concern for their own ‘coolness’. They’ve risen quickly in prominence, playing supporting act for one of their big influences – The Rolling Stones – after only releasing one (quite good) album and one EP. As such, there’s a fair amount of anticipation amongst their circles as to how White Bear would turn out, especially since they’ve been advertising it as an artistic step up from their previous works.
The chords that open first track and lead single Three Bulleits sound almost like a come-on, as though the band is challenging the listener for doubting them. After a moment of silence that feels like an age, the band breaks into one of their signature grooves, grimy bass over rolling drums, as singer Phil Campbell yowls about vague existential dread – “so you wonder where the world has gone”. By the time he screams “Come on!” in the chorus, the band has more than reasserted their talents, as the song is effortlessly catchy, with a fantastically hip-shaking rhythm. It’s a perfect reintroduction, and one that inspires lots of promise for the album as a whole.
The album is only a brief 35 minutes (roughly) long, and it’s probably good, since the pace of the opening track is maintained throughout, with few exceptions. Of the 10 songs here, 8 of them sound remarkably consistent. In this case, the same sound holds up extremely well over the runtime, with just enough melodic and structural variation to keep things fresh. Their first album split the track list into two distinct types of songs, the bluesy rockers, and the ballads. Whilst the faster songs remained entertaining throughout that album, the ballads grew repetitive. White Bear doesn’t have that problem, with the vast majority of the album being fast and exciting, and this means that even when the one ballad does show up, it’s all the more interesting for it.
The two songs that don’t fit into that consistent framework are the third track A Pleasant Peace I Feel, and the closer and aforementioned ballad I Hope I’m Not Losing My Mind. The former actually sounds wildly different from the rest of the album, with the distorted guitars giving way to delay effects more akin to The Edge’s work with U2. Whilst it’s sonically interesting, it sounds out of place, and only really serves to halt the otherwise fast and exciting pace. I Hope I’m Not Losing My Mind however, is fantastic. It’s chorus (lyrics matching the song title) sees Campbell singing with more vulnerability than ever before, and it feels like the perfect close to the cynical and dark lyrics that have preceded it. The emotional payoff the song provides is surprisingly poignant, and it works even better thanks to the groundwork sneakily laid in the prior 9 tracks.
White Bear works shows The Temperance Movement working more with structure and intent than ever before. Even if it’s just structuring an album for emotional effect, that’s a real sign of the artistic step up the band wants this album to be. Whilst it has a weak spot or two, it’s the perfect length for something as exhilarating as this band, it’s got real emotional payoff, and above all it’s never boring.