On his past six albums, William Elliott Whitmore’s blues snarl and down-and-out lyrics have cultivated an image of the 30-year-old as a grizzled, whiskey-soaked old man drinking black coffee in some greasy spoon and grumbling over the news. On his latest, Animals in the Dark, this persona seems to have lost its heart, putting him in the category of a slightly edgier Amos Lee. The lyrics come off as unadventurous rather than stark and bleak in their simplicity, and the snarl is grating rather than soulful. The content of the songs on Animals is for the most part pedestrian fare, jumping between “just-folks” wisdom and bitter political tirades. The occasional lyrical gem can be found, but Whitmore’s delivery is so drained of colour that the simple, elegant instrumentation upstages anything interesting Whitmore might be saying.
The album is not without its moments; foot-stomper “Old Devils” has an Eastern-European flavour, a welcome twist on a basically uniform album, and “Who Stole the Soul” is able to recapture some of the heart-sore magic of his previous work. Still, Whitmore will have to dig a little deeper on his next effort if he wants us to take his bleak outlook seriously.