Towards the end of ‘Hungry’, the lead single from White Lung’s fourth album, Kenneth William unleashes a guitar solo that, in its bounce and melodic cleanliness, sounds like a Peter Hook riff from 1986 transplanted into the middle of a raucous punk song that otherwise couldn’t be further away from the influence of New Order. The fact that it absolutely works is a testament to White Lung’s sense of invention and adventure over the course of their ten years as a band.
To say that Paradise is White Lung’s poppiest album yet would be a disservice to their consistent and uncanny ability to create infectious earworms, but there is an undeniable sense of emphasis on song-craft here. At first glance it appears to be business as usual – drum work that would atrophy the limbs of a normal human, unapologetically assertive lyrics, and serrated guitars that slice through the mix and often sound more like a cartoon version of a prog-rock synth solo. However there is a willingness here to allow the songs space to make a stronger impression. Paradise is the band’s longest album to date (an extensive 28 minutes) and for the first time none of the songs fall under the 2-minute mark. The songs are given all the time they need, but remain short and sweet in a way that demands to be revisited. The album lends itself very well to repeated listens.
Mish Way continues to be one of the best front-people in rock music – she has long been fighting the good fight in her lyrics. This reached an impressive high in Deep Fantasy’s centrepiece ‘I Believe You’, a brash rebuke against the tendency for female sexual abuse victims to be let down by the legal system when they attempt to find justice. Paradise continues the emphasis on allowing women to control their own narratives. ‘Below’ celebrates women who embrace their beauty on their own terms with a sheen described by Way as a combination of “Stevie Nicks meets Celine Dion”.
By their own admission, the album has a different focus than previous full-lengths mostly due to Way’s marriage, but the album does not suggest that aligning oneself with a man is the answer to happiness, rather that love in all its forms is an integral part of the human experience. The closing title track puts it in plain terms: “I’m all about you / You’re all about me too / Is that oppressive? / No”.
In a recent interview, Way criticised the unspoken idea among the more intense punk circles that it is taboo to become a better songwriter. The band’s star has risen considerably with every album they release, and the anxiety with attaining celebrity can be felt in ‘Hungry’, which attempts to split the difference between punk’s steadfast individualism and the human urge to be noticed. Even in a period with such success and fertile creativity, White Lung still acknowledge the struggle that meets us all even when life is at its best. Paradise shows White Lung are well equipped for the increased attention they truly deserve.