Whyte Horses: Hard Times (CRC) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Friday, September 25th, 2020  

Whyte Horses

Hard Times


Jan 17, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Imagine creating a mixtape whereby it wasn't a case of simply selecting tracks, and deciding on the running order, but you actually began recording and producing a selection of much-loved songs enlisting the services of some of your favorite artists. That's exactly what Whyte Horses have pulled off on their third studio album, Hard Times.

Whyte Horses may ostensibly seem like a constantly mutating shape-shifting pop art project with immersive live shows that are far more theatrical than your average indie gig, but for DJ, producer, and Whyte Horses overlord Dom Thomas, it was always about the music. Commenting on the choice of songs for Hard Times he says, "I think I tried to choose songs that I could do justice to more than anything. I just thought that unravelling songs that I'm into and exploring other people's writing was much more interesting to us as a collective at this point, I wanted to dissect the work of other people to see how they write their songs."


The tracklist on Hard Times is undoubtedly the result of Thomas' time as a DJ sourcing the weird and the wonderful, seamlessly melding the crowd-pleasers with the obscure. Indeed the choices that resonate on this album are often the ones the pique your interest enough to have you sourcing the original to compare. Title track "Hard Times," for example, was originally written by Curtis Mayfield for a larger than life soul singer called Baby Huey, whom many regarded as one of music's great lost talents. The 1970's original is an undeniable classic and Whyte Horses' reinterpretation with John Grant's smooth vocals certainly does it justice. 


One of the albums resounding highlights is a reworking of Bee Gees' "Mr. Natural," which barely scraped into the Top 100 in the Billboard charts upon its 1974 release. It features a beautifully nuanced, emotive, and soulful performance from Elly Jackson which is a million miles away from the stylised car siren shrillness she employed on early La Roux singles. 


Not everything quite hits the mark. "Satellite of Love" (featuring Badly Drawn Boy) is pleasant amble rather than a radical interpretation and it doesn't particularly add anything new to the Lou Reed classic. Gruff Rhys joins the collective to cover Brân's 1974 Welsh language glam rock stomper "Tocyn" and the result sounds not unlike an unholy union of Chicory Tip meets The Rubettes experimenting with magic mushrooms. 


Plastic Bertrand's faux punk classic "Ça Plane Pour Moi" fares far better. It has no big-name guest vocalist, but its effervescent fusion of Northern Soul meets New Wave, replete with honking horns, and sonorous girl group vocals is perfectly realized. Todd Rungredon's "I Saw the Light," performed by Nouvelle Vague's Mélanie Pain, is another sparkling rendition which brings out the wistful desolate beauty that resides at the heart of the song. 


The album closes with another superb reinterpretation and a track that again reflects Thomas' crate-digging DJ past in the shape of  "Want You to Know." It's an original composition by Roy Kerr, aka The Freelance Hellraiser. Kerr is credited as one of the creators of the UK "mashup" scene and came to the fore in 2001 with "A Stroke of Genius," which spliced The Strokes' "Hard to Explain" with Christina Aguilera's pop smash "Genie in a Bottle." 


Hard Times is a lovingly curated collection of songs, essentially a covers album for people who don't like covers albums. And in these dark, hard times where a war of words on social media could start a world war at any given moment, Hard Times is a much-needed exercise in escapism allowing you to completely immerse yourself in Whyte Horses' kaleidoscopic  world of mystical pop. (www.whytehorses.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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