The Whatmans started out as a covers band in Navan before making the leap to original music, and their humble beginnings are clearly evident on their debut release, Fire Up the Masses. Each of the album’s 10 tracks sounds familiar, from the John Squire-like guitar melodies that populate just about every track to the quintessential Gallagher lyric “these should be the best days,” from ‘Devil Shoes.’ Hell, opener ‘One for the Music’ (chorus line: “this one’s for the music”) could easily have been ripped straight from the Richard Ashcroft playbook of bland inanities.
While it’s instrumentally solid, Fire Up the Masses consistently falls down on the dire standard of songwriting. Although Francis McGinn is a constant bright spot with imaginative bass lines, and frontman John Brennan offers a decent approximation of Suede’s Brett Anderson, the song structures are boring and predictable, and the lyrical content ranges from stunningly vapid to unintentionally hilarious.
The less said about lead single ‘Kiss the Mind’ the better: although it is the best and most complete song on the record, the group’s attempt to cast a kinder light on the pole-dancing industry is hamstrung by Brennan’s inability to differentiate between a stripper and a prostitute.
Many bands would shy away from writing even one song about the singular act of giving directions, but The Whatmans have gone ahead and raised the bar by including two, ‘Come Along’ and ‘Follow Me,’ the former grating with a shrill nasal chorus and the latter spoiling an exciting machine gunfire bass line with a nauseating chorus that includes no fewer than 16 invitations to “get on up off your knees.”
Afghanistan is the setting for ‘Soldier,’ a seven-minute bore that clumsily rips the helicopter intro from Billy Joel’s ‘Goodnight Saigon’ before ambling waywardly to the comically brilliant chorus: “Bang bang, I’m a soldier of war.” Nobody fucks with a soldier who shoots first and introduces himself later, but this image is somewhat at odds with the rest of the song, which seeks to present its protagonist as some sort of tragic hero.
Zealous Britpop fans who yearn for the comfort of the mid-nineties may find some value in Fire Up the Masses, but with the Irish music scene in such rude health it’s hard to justify getting worked up over The Whatmans’ ham-fisted, reductive shtick.