Nothing if not regular, Performance marks the eighth studio album in ten years from the Texan indie-rockers. It marks a new beginning of sorts, with Conrad Choucroun (drums) and Michael Hunter (keyboards) joining stalwarts James Petralli (vocals, guitar) and Steve Terebecki (bass) in a revamped line-up following a partial exodus to Leon Bridges’ backing band. It also signals a return to form after the slight drift of 2016’s Stiff, and a definitive re-alignment away from the smooth sounds of recent years and back to the ramshackle style of earlier albums.
Performance begins with the turn of a radio dial, finally landing on the sound of a band situated comfortably somewhere near the mid-70s. Still undefinable genre-wise, it again shows White Denim dipping their toe into nearly every style of rock but never once feels muddy or confused. ‘Magazin’ resides in a luxuriously Eno-esque warm production, horns punctuating the bluesy strut of guitars before it all flows into a mighty crescendo with Petralli asking: “I know you’re not looking for love, but are you still looking for me?” The title track is a fast-paced ride up through the gears, while ‘Fine Slime’ is like The Rolling Stones at their swaggering Exile On Main Street peaack – before it transmutes into a wild freak out. As a beginning trio of songs, it is exceptional and shows a band truly back on top.
The record as a whole feels like it has just staggered in through the door after a wild night out, breathless and ragged. Recorded for the first time in the band’s own studio, there is a freshness and raw quality to it all, everything sounding live and ‘real’. On ‘Double Death’, you can almost see the horn section pressed into the corner of the studio, so vibrant and up-close is the production. As the track descends into a glorious southern rock boogie towards the end, it gives the impression that this album is going to sound fantastic live – something that a surprising amount of records fail to keep in mind.
Happy in its own world, Performance trundles along like a modern day Creedence Clearwater Revival with not much more ambition than that – indeed, the band themselves describe the album as “Songs just dumb enough to drink, dance and fight to”. At a little over half an hour, it is tight, lean and does exactly what it sets out to do, even with a slight tailing off in momentum towards its finale. Enjoy the performance while it lasts, they’ll certainly be back next year with a whole new one.