It’d be rather easy to hate White Reaper.
It’d be rather easy to hate White Reaper. For starters, they’ve gone and named their latest release The World’s Best American Band. It’s a ballsy move for a garage punk act from Louisville, Kentucky, with a penchant for both bubblegum pop and unabashed arena rock. Over a series of guitar histrionics and Tony Esposito’s scorched throat singing, the band powers through a tight half-hour of surprisingly decent rock ‘n’ roll.
“Judy French” has an AOR-crossed-with-New-Wave feel that would not have sounded out of place on any number of radio stations circa 1982. There’s just enough punk energy coursing through the song – again courtesy of Esposito – to temper the decidedly mainstream/classic rock guitar hook and twinkling piano (think Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby” played at twice the speed and a thousand times the aggression). It’s a very un-punk move mashing these two clashing styles together, yet it works far better than it should. Rather than pastiche or Me First and the Gimme Gimmes-esque re-workings, White Reaper manages the improbable here by creating a genuine amalgamation replete with heart.
And while this may well have some of the original punks who vehemently opposed AOR and mainstream radio hits rolling over in their graves (there are so many guitar solos!), modern listeners may well find The World’s Best American Band to be a thoroughly enjoyable listen. Given how often we’ve now encountered bands joining formerly disparate styles into a sort of mutant gumbo, these types of stylistic fusions don’t carry quite the impact they would have if released concurrently with the styles they seek to ape. In other words, a contemporary audience might be far too jaded and desensitized to appreciate the not-so-subtle nuances at work with a band like White Reaper.
“Tell Me” relies on a T. Rex guitar strut cribbed from the heyday of glam amped up on guitar hero bravado and good old rock ‘n’ roll swagger. It’s just as fun as it sounds, designed to be cranked at full volume by those who drive around in beat-up old Firebirds and Camaro Z28s, swear the mid-‘70s-through-early-‘80s was the best time in the history of music and pledge allegiance to the flag of classic rock radio.
The rest of the album races by in a jumbled blur of album rock references; suffice it to say the members of White Reaper spent more than a few hours shredding along to their favorite albums. You don’t develop a penchant for doubled guitar solos without a deep-seeded appreciation for Van Halen, et al.
Are they the world’s best American band? Not by a long shot, but their aforementioned swagger and bravado could certainly fool those who wouldn’t think to question such a grandiose statement. Of course it just so happens that, in our current political and social climate, a disconcerting number of Americans are willing to believe anything and everything they’re told. So you know what? Fuck it. White Reaper is the world’s best American band (on The World’s Best American Band). Why question when it’s just easier to simply accept?