Whitney – Spark – Album Review
by Cathy Brown
Chicago band Whitney – helmed by Julien Ehlrich and Max Kakacekhave – have returned with their third album Spark, which follows on from their 2019 release Forever Turned Around and marks something of a reinvention for the duo.
Changes in their personal lives (a relocation to Portland, lockdown and the break-up of long-term relationships) have ushered in changes in their trademark sound and Spark finds them experimenting with lush arrangements, ‘70s inspired grooves and electronic beats to create an effortlessly winning sound.
Lyrically, these are songs that examine the breakdown of relationships and the difficulty of new beginnings, but sonically they are contagiously uplifting. There are echoes here – from the Beach Boys to the Bee Gees, with a touch of Billy Joel thrown in for good measure – but these twelve songs stand on their own merits.
The opener, Nothing Remains sets out Whitney’s stall with its catchy ‘70s pop vibe. The inclusion of synths and drum machines gives this album a more recognisable dance sound, particularly on the infectious Back Then and recent single Real Love, but Whitney nod to their folk-rock roots in the laid-back strums of Heart Will Beat. Self has an ethereal movie soundtrack feel, while the disco inflected sound of Lost Control belies the darkness of the lyrics and is reminiscent of the pop-grandeur of Prefab Sprout.
It goes without saying that every song features pristine vocal work from Ehlrich particularly on the more thoughtful tracks Terminal and County Lines, which closes the album in a Gershwin-esque swirl of exuberant instrumentation.
There is so much to enjoy on this album – from insightful lyrics to lush instrumentation, intimate arrangements to sweeping melodies – all executed with an infectious and irresistible openness.
Producer John Congleton does a sterling job creating a lush aural sound that adds depth to the band’s pop sensibilities. Without sacrificing what made their previous albums good, Spark sees Whitney up their game to produce an album that is, without doubt, great.