Review: Whitley

Even The Stars Are A Mess
June 25, 2013

Three years after he moved to London, retired the pseudonym of Whitley and became plain old Lawrence Greenwood, the musician behind 2007’s The Submarine and 2010’s Go Forth, Find Mammoth is finally back with his new offering, Even The Stars Are a Mess. The highly anticipate third album from the Melbourne-based singer-songwriter is a typically heartfelt and genuine offering of down-tempo indie rock. Each song is meticulously crafted and carefully arranged, with Greenwood’s understated singing voice and talent for writing meaningful lyrics the real centrepiece of the record.

In the past few years, various tracks have been included in soundtracks ranging from local TV shows (Packed to the Rafters), Hollywood TV shows (One Tree Hill) and even videogames (Pro Evolution Soccer). Perhaps it’s this newfound fame and notoriety that led to such a lengthy hiatus, and Greenwood was quoted at the time of saying that the reason for doing so was “really complex, but to sum it up: I just need to try something different, musically”. Whatever the reason behind it, his sabbatical in London has proved fruitful, with his latest album being his strongest so far.

Whitley has achieved a solid balance between interesting instrumental lines and engaging lyrical and vocal efforts. Album opener The Ballad of Terrence McKenna is a dark and philosophical song, with Whitley’s voice joined by a cautiously plucked guitar and a vague and ambient backing track, as he sings “In a moment it’s gone / but this whole life feels so wrong.” These themes of displacement and emptiness are pervasive throughout the album. The final track of the album, I Am Not a Rock, is another pensive and deeply personal track, with Whitley again exploring ‘found sounds’ in his use of percussion and guitar. Although the tone of the album rarely shifts from introspective and moody, there are almost imperceptible changes in tone as Whitley explores various ideas through his lyrics, giving the album great potential for repeat listening – it’s definitely a record that requires several spins to really get to terms with the writing.

Whitley – My Heart is not a Machine

The music of Whitley is dense and slow-building and on Even The Stars Are a Mess there is a newfound maturity and sense of time that was perhaps missing from his first two releases. The highlight of the album is the emotional one-two punch of lead single My Heart is not a Machine and Final Words. My Heart… is a brooding and atmospheric affair, in which a slowly rippling guitar and an ethereal female vocalist back Greenwood’s voice as he sings “Did I think I was a king somehow?”. Final Words is a tender, choral track, with a slow and subtle build up that again shows off Greenwood’s impressive vocals and touching lyrics.

This is a welcome return for a talented and hard-working Melbourne musician. Whitley is well-known for entertaining, dynamic and sometimes surprising live shows, and it can only be good for the local music scene that Greenwood is back in the country and producing music. Even The Stars Are a Mess is the strongest album Greenwood has recorded as Whitley, and a testament to his serious chops as a songwriter and vocalist.

Watch: Whitley Returns (interview with The Bedroom Philosopher)