Album Review: Will and the People – Whistleblower3 min read
London’s Will and the People formed in 2007 when the titular Will (Rendle) moved to Brighton on a quest to find musicians to match his lovable peacenik ethos and despite a rotating door approach to the lineup in their early years, the band has gone on to become somewhat of a globetrotting phenomenon. Their impressive touring itinerary has to date been bolstered by two studio albums – 2010’s Morning Sun and their acclaimed self-titled sophomore effort in 2012. This month they return with another set of wide-eyed, worldly indie-pop gems in the form of Whistleblower.
Opening with the spruced-up 60’s garage rock of Formula. From the outset Rendle and his ragtag cohorts make their mission pretty clear: “This is for the people who feel it in their hearts/But don’t get on too well”. You’d hope this kind of message of unification a band that have dedicated most of their life to touring would impart and it’s done with youthful charm and a refreshing lack of soapboxing.
June single Shakey Ground keeps the energy up with its Afrobeat momentum and endearingly jarring chromatic synth hooks before Trustworthy Rock proves to be a minefield of lyrical juxtaposition amid its breezy melodica intro and bubbly reggae vibe. It’s hard to imagine anyone else singing “If the devil is dirty and god is clean/I see ourselves as somewhere in between” in a chorus before kind of cheapening such an astute philosophical observation with “Australia/I’m a quarter kangaroo” at the top of the second verse.
Juxtaposition seems to be a bit of a running theme in Whistleblower. The tight, 2-Tone inspired ska in the verses of Lay Me Down seem a little at odds with the almost earnest folk-rock chorus, a vocal-laden bridge that sounds like Paul McCartney at his silliest and a faux-spooky outro, but Will and the People have the right amount of cheek to get away with this prog-indie adventurousness and for this, you love them all the more.
For a band of mostly blonde, pasty Englishmen, Will and the People have a pretty keen grasp on the instrumental and vocal mechanics of reggae as evidenced by I’ll Always Be There (Trust Yourself) and they infuse it brilliantly into the Queen/tango-hybrid of Pear Shaped. The incredible Jamaican vocal harmonies that have systematically won fans continent-by-continent are in full and glorious effect on Penny Eyes and the fidgety indie-cabaret of Plasters slyly borrows from the Matt Bellamy book of riff-rock in a way that manages to avoid potential accusations of plagiarism and it wraps up with a wonderfully twee doo-wop outro.
There are some pretty great swinging gypsy-jazz influences to be heard on Jekyll and Hyde and the irresistible “lala-lala-lala-la-la” hook darts and weaves around Baby’s chaotic dynamic range which Will himself says was inspired by alt-rock legends the Pixies, and plays like some kind of bastard child of Jeff Buckley and The Kooks.
Their busking roots are plain to see in the stomping momentum of penultimate MNK (Mother Nature Kicks) and yet again, those saccharine 3-part harmonies shine like the songs “G.O.L.D./Life is go-o-old” hook that probably won’t leave your head for the rest of the day and the record winds up with the pseudo-politically named title track which, while maintaining the progressive social conscience the band seem to proudly embody, avoids anything divisive and ties together the reggae-inspired indie sound upon which they’ve built their stellar reputation.
Over its 42 minutes, the album manages to give nods to almost as many different styles of music as stops we can expect to see on the global tour that will support it over the next couple of years. It seems like Will and the People truly absorb the world around them in such a wonderful way and their music is irrefutably improved by this ideal with Whistleblower capturing a band who show no signs of slowing down any time soon.