White Reaper

You Deserve Love

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On their 2017 album World's Greatest American Band, the Kentucky quintet White Reaper shed any vestiges of their garage punk sound in favor of a strutting and slick modern take on album rock of the late '70s and early '80s. Unlike many bands who have left the garage in search of bigger, better sounds and fallen flat on their faces, White Reaper had the songs, skills, and attitude to pull it off and make something just as fun and fulfilling. With You Deserve Love, the band make the jump from Polyvinyl to Elektra, and in the process, they smooth out and slick up every remaining jagged edge left over from their ragged beginnings. Much like on World's Greatest, they are unapologetic about their love of cheesy album rock and dive in headfirst with a mash-up of power pop like the Cars and swaggering rock like Thin Lizzy to come up with a batch of songs that almost all sound like close relatives of .38 Special's "Hold on Loosely." Or "Caught Up in You." Or some amazing amalgam of both. It's a very specific sound and feel that could have come off as corny if not played and sung with all the conviction of guys who really believe their rock & roll dreams will come true. Tony Esposito sings with all the passion of someone auditioning for the lead singer slot in Survivor, and the band fall in behind him with swooping synths, harmony guitar lines, massive guitar solos, and a rhythm section tighter than a too-small pair of 501s. Some of the songs have hard rock DNA ("Headwind," "Raw"); some of them are pure pop ("Might Be Right," "Headwind"); and one or two, like "Eggplant" and "Saturday," even creep very gently into funky Maroon 5 territory, only with none of the ickiness that implies. Everything is streamlined and stitched together with consummate finesse by producer Jay Joyce. None of this good-time, borderline silly music is going to earn the band any critical hosannas and anyone who had hopes that the group would ditch this sound and go back to howling garage punk is going to feel let down. That being said, people who don't take their music too seriously might find that You Deserve Love is just the kind of record to put on when some mood elevation is required. It's hard to frown while songs as snappy and fun as "1F" soar through their gleaming choruses or to be blue when giddy tunes like the title track bop past in joyously carefree fashion. It is, however, easy to roll down the windows, stop worrying, and let White Reaper deliver the throwback goodies because they do it in fine, frivolous style.

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