If there’s one thing that’s a sure thing about White Reaper, it’s that they clearly have confidence in themselves. Titling their previous albums White Reaper Does It Again and The World’s Best American Band makes that pretty clear from the off, but an ever-changing sound has a baked-in level of self-assuredness when it comes to a band expanding their range as readily and openly as this. It’s been a rather consistent factor as well, with efforts spanning punk to blues-rock and garage-rock, and now with third album You Deserve Love, the focus is reportedly on pop-rock with elements of the previous garage-rock guise, and classic rock sprinkled in for good measure. The respect for having such creatively adaptability goes without saying, and given that White Reaper have had a pretty solid track record so far, there’s definitely plenty to be optimistic about with You Deserve Love.
And to White Reaper’s credit, they’ve definitely slid into their new guise well, albeit without totally doing away with some of the hitches that tends to afflict these sorts of garage-rock-leaning acts. Where You Deserve Love can elevate above that, though, is in the way it’s trying to portray itself as little more than a huge, radio-ready rock album that’s fully embracing the classic rock in its peripheral vision to hit as hard and as broad as possible. It’s reminiscent of a lot of modern indie-rock acts in the mainstream who’ve opted to keep their ties to rock attached, though White Reaper’s take might just have even more bombast and flagrant, galloping appeal than even them. It’s about as old-fashioned as modern rock is allowed to get without becoming completely fossilised, and White Reaper are still able to make it sound vital and a whole lot of fun.
But even so, the complaints do need to be addressed, and with You Deserve Love, it almost entirely rests on the shoulders of the production. If nothing else, it’s easy to see what the intention was, harking back to the big, beefy guitars of classic rock that are really only a half-step from the garage-rock that White Reaper are more versed in, but like with a lot of albums like this, modulation proves to be an issue. It’s an album that seemingly wants to be as loud as possible at all times, and while that can work for the searing spikes of guitar that crash through Saturday or the clattering interplay between the bass and drums amidst a gigantic cushion of reverb on Hard Luck, the potential of missing the mark can feel just as likely. Raw is probably the most notable example, in which the pace is picked up for what almost feels like a proto-garage-punk throwback of sorts, but when the squealing lead guitar, fat bass, skittering drums and drizzles of synth all feel at the same volume and are trying to reach the end as fast as they can, it can feel more restrictive than anything. It can be a rather crushing experience, particularly when this feels like White Reaper’s default setting, and even if it’s not always a total disaster, in the moments where it doesn’t work, that hit can really be felt.
Thankfully that isn’t too often though, because White Reaper are able to convincingly create a synthesis that hits the sweet spot of rock riotousness with incredible ease. It’s a case where keeping everything as big as possible is about as simple yet effective as it comes; there’s not really a great deal in the way of depth in the writing, but that’s easy to get around with melodies and compositions that really do leave an impact. The huge embrace of classicism is the source of the most immediate hit, be that the roiling, major-key guitar lead to Real Long Time that’s a gloriously unashamed riff on Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town, or the traditional pop sway of Might Be Right, but there’s enough in the way of contemporary influences to keep White Reaper’s approach from feeling too stale. The small but welcome inclusion of synths does a lot in that regard, and while the overall tone retains an old-school warmth to not feel totally out of place, there’s definitely a more perforated edge that’s lent to 1F and Eggplant because of them that’s good to have. It comes together as a series of songs whose ambition seems to be to take up as much of that revival-rock ecosystem as possible, and You Deserve Love really does hit that point without feeling antiquated. For as many pieces as White Reaper borrow front the past, this isn’t a throwback, instead nestling in an almost timeless Americana space that bands like The Maine currently occupy. Sonically there’s a big difference, but the intentions and overall sense of populism are generally, and White Reaper have the means to similarly thrive within it.
It just goes to show how effortlessly that aforementioned confidence has transferred over even among the change in sounds, and how capable White Reaper are at riding it for a really entertaining listen. Sure, its flaws are worn just as prominently as its strengths, but You Deserve Love is easily weighted in favour of the latter, and the results feel impressive enough to stick solidly. It’s a take of classic rock that’s a lot more focused and driven, and White Reaper bring a level of panache that puts them far and away ahead of the competition. It’s maybe not quite deserving of the grandstanding that made up the titles of their first two albums, but this is plenty enjoyable all the same.
For fans of: Sheer Mag, Culture Abuse, Thin Lizzy
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘You Deserve Love’ by White Reaper is released on 18th October on Elektra Records / Parlophone Records.