Mission Control: This Is Rock

If you still care about rock and roll music, then pick up the new album from the Whigs, “Mission Control.” The first time I saw this Georgia-born rock trio was two summers ago, when they were riding high on all the hype that had been drowning them. A sold-out crowd packed New York’s Mercury Lounge, and hundreds of “shoulda-got-there-earlier’s” were wrapped tightly around the club, holding out for a chance to get in.

Rolling Stone magazine created much of the buzz when they mentioned the Whigs as one of the “10 Bands to Watch in ’06.” In the article, the magazine championed them as “the best unsigned band in America.” Well, that didn’t last for long. Dave Matthews’ ATO Records snatched them up and got them in the studio as soon as possible. The result is the stunning album “Mission Control” (ATO), produced and mixed by Rob Schnapf (Elliot Smith, Beck, Guided By Voices) at the famous Sound Factory in Los Angeles. All of this was considered an upgrade by the band that recorded their self-released debut, “Give Em A Big Fat Lip,” themselves in their frat-house at the University of Georgia.

The opener on this new record starts out with the same sense of urgency displayed on their debut with “Like a Vibration.” Parker Gispert’s slashing guitar tone and southern boy vocals hit you instantly and set the tone for the rest of the album. The first three song only set you up for the real gem on the album, “Right Hand on My Heart.” This blazing arena-rock anthem – in the style of the Foo Fighters – displays the forthright growth of the Whigs from the first album in ways that cannot be measured. Gispert declares, “We got the money, now we’ll make a new start,” in a cry of freedom that sounds like a cross between Kurt Cobain’s howl and Jim James’ country croon. After listening to this song a few times, you get the sense that this is a song about the effects of a record label backing a DIY indie-rock band.

The rest of the album progresses with ease due to the drumming of Julian Dorio. Crowned “Best Drummer of 2007” by Esquire magazine, Dorio’s classic-rock mentality creates a dramatic touch in each song.

In an interview with The Hatchet, Dorio explained that he tries to emulate his heroes – Ringo Starr, Mitch Mitchell and Keith Moon – using his drumming to add to the feel and melody of each track, without distracting from the rest of the song.

On their previous album, the Whigs’ Southern roots were subdued in an attempt to make it in the rather large indie-rock world. Dorio and his bandmates take a step toward embracing their “southerness” with “Sleep Sunshine,” the psychedelic country-waltz, laced with beautiful harmonies and lap-steel guitar. The album is filled with other standout tracks, but the one that true rock fans can take to the bank is “Already Young.” In what may be the best song Kurt Cobain never wrote, Gispert repeats lines like, “I don’t care, I’m already young,” harkening back to a time when rock music actually spoke to a generation of kids ready and willing to stand up to the big bad man.

“Mission Control” might be the first great album to draw from the influence of the bands that our college generation grew up on in the 1990’s. You can hear hints of everything from Pearl Jam to Third Eye Blind on this album, and it is sure to be a sign of where the rock world is starting to head in 2008. The album closes with the title track, “Mission Control,” a beautifully dramatic composition that Dorio admits was his favorite to record. The horn section completes the crescendo of this album and pleasantly puts it to rest.

Rock fans should be sleeping a bit easier after the album’s release date this past Tuesday. Who knows? Maybe the Killers will disappear. Pick up a copy of this album, listen to it on your iPod, in your car, or on the loudest speakers you can find and take notice of that extra “f*ck-it” in your system. Then check them out on David Letterman next Monday night.

The Whigs’ new album, “Mission Control,” is out now on ATO Records. They will be playing at the 8×10 Club in Baltimore on Thursday, Jan. 31. For more info and to listen to a sample, visit the band’s website at www.thewhigs.com.

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