The Temperance Movement, a UK based group formed back in 2011, is an exercise in nostalgia - a clear harkening back to hard rock and blues rock legends like ACDC and Black Sabbath - and their latest album White Bear is no exception. In an age where mincing sounds through half a dozen pedals can be considered artsy, you get the feeling that The Temperance Movement deal in no nonsense music, and just want to turn up that distortion and rock out. And that’s exactly what they do. Yet while the majority of the album is throat-clenching vocals and overdriven guitars, there are also a few, more unique tunes.
Opening with the punchy, raucous duo that is Three Bulleits (spelt correctly, might I add) and Get Yourself Free, it’s not terribly mind blowing, but is quite energetic listening nevertheless. More than once I caught myself holding an imaginary pick and strumming along furiously in crude imitation. Then we get to the initially gentler third song, A Pleasant Peace I Feel. Vocal harmonies in the first half were well executed amidst a finger picked lead that almost sounds like a dirty toned saxophone. It’s one of those build-up songs, with the verses getting more intense between the choruses, yet the end devolves into a messy concoction, with each part fighting for centre stage. After that, we can skim over the rest of the fun, but only loosely memorable first half of White Bear, with vague imagery of American highways and knife-wielding murderers cropping up here and there. I have to say though, that this album is very well recorded and mixed, although this shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it is their second studio album. Each layer of sound is defined and the album feels very cohesive overall, not just sonically, but thematically too.
As an intermission, this is a good point to mention that Spotify adverts are the worst. I used Spotify for the first time for White Bear, and while the adverts are not too frequent, it just feels so wrong, and almost comical to interrupt a gravel throated and foot-stomping rock & roll song with a clip of some celestial-sounding KLM travel advert, so just buy the damn subscription. I’m not affiliated with Spotify in any way.
It seems, at least to me personally, that many albums only pickup in quality after at least the sixth or seventh tune. There’s no doubt that the second half of White Bear dishes up much more. Oh Lorraine, the seventh song in the album, is outstanding: an angry blend of droning minor chords, synth embellishments and visceral fingerpicking that almost makes you want to get into a fight. And in direct contrast, I Hope I’m Not Losing My Mind provides a powerfully emotive exploration wrapped in an intimate blues ballad. Whispered vocals, reverb and vibrato set to high produce quite an impassioned performance that invokes all the colours of sadness and emotional poignancy. There aren’t many contemporary groups that do blues ballads well (think Rival Sons and the more recognisable Black Keys) but The Temperance Movement pull it off. While not exactly hallmarks of postmodern avant-garde, the last few tunes are some decent stuff.
Despite only being a semi original affair, White Bear, as of the 24th January, has reached Number 1 on the UK Rock Album Charts. Perhaps ironically, that’s exactly what lends this group its charm and inimitability. It’s the breath of fresh air modern rock & roll has wanted to catch for a while – something that sticks to its roots unashamedly, and soundly plants one foot in the previous century, and one in the current.