Archives: Love and Theft ‘Whiskey On My Breath’ – Single Review
This article was first published on January 7th, 2015 on forthecountryrecord.com.
I never had too much time for Love and Theft. Having listened to their last album (self-titled sophomore record that produced their first #1 hit ‘Angel Eyes’) and the singles from their debut album ‘World Wide Open’, I wrote them off as a bland, generic country pop boyband whose target audience were teenage girls and with little else to offer. ‘Night That You’ll Never Forget’, their single from earlier in 2014, didn’t do as well as they might have hoped; it failed to make top 30 on radio and as such seems to have been scrapped from their next album, which is due in February. They therefore launched ‘Whiskey On My Breath’, the album’s title track, at the end of 2014, perhaps in the hope that having the single and album share the same name, plus those ever-popular alcohol references, would bring them a hit.
It’s certainly not what I would have expected. ‘Whiskey On My Breath’ as a title sounded a bit more serious than their previous material, and certainly I was curious about it functioning as the name of their album. I thought it was strange to market something like that to young girls, considering they had been largely wholesome up until this point. But it was when I listened to the actual song that I became the most surprised. Sung with commercial but rawer vocals than I had became accustomed to, it starts slow and stripped back, a simple country melody guiding us through long, drawn-out notes laid upon a part Irish-folk, part stadium roots-rock base a la Mumford & Sons/The Lumineers. The chorus is marked with group harmonies, glittering acoustic guitar, shimmering tamborine and rich accordion, and even though there is a possibility some of the percussion was created through drum loops, it bears no resemblance to the technique employed by so many of the faux-country, pop/R&B music dominating the airwaves of late.
Sung with conviction and built brick-by-brick with a swirling arrangement, the lyrics are where this track truly shines. Love and Theft keep things pretty simple with short, statement lines and little-to-no flowery language, but it’s entirely appropriate for a song that describes an alcoholic’s inner turmoil at not wanting to meet Jesus with whiskey on his breath. Perhaps presumptuously, he believes he’ll get into Heaven regardless because Jesus died for all his sins, although I suspect that is a deliberate ploy to represent the clouded judgement of those with an addiction. But although he doesn’t seem to show remorse for the damage he has caused to himself, his life and his loved ones, he can’t stand the thought of the disrespect he would display to his Lord by arriving in Heaven drunk.
It’s an interesting narrative, one that doesn’t tend to appear in this exact form, mainly because usually the alcoholics in country songs are a little more on the way to helping themselves than this. But it’s also one that depicts drinking in a wholly dark and depressing way, and that features as a stark contrast to the bro-country songs that celebrate drinking and partying “because it’s fun”. In one swift move, Love and Theft have graduated from fun country-pop about love, infatuation and innocent partying, to deeper themes of addition, faith and death, and this time without any happy ending. There’s no resolution here. We don’t see the main character get himself clean. He’s just repeating the chorus over and over, stuck in his addiction and stuck in his ways. It’s a huge step up lyrically, and the maturing sound also reflects this stylistic change.
So why now? Off the back of ‘Night That You’ll Never Forget’, perhaps they just decided to run a complete overhaul and go and do their own thing entirely. It’s brave, but it’s the kind of bravery that we need, and I respect them wholeheartedly for it. I’ve certainly changed my mind about them.