THE CIVIL WARS
The Civil Wars
The Civil Wars is a band in crisis. While the Grammy-winning duo made good on its promise to release new music despite canceling a European tour midway through due to “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition,” the fate of the Nashville-certified group remains up in the air. Joy Williams, the beguiling little black dress-costumed imp to John Paul White’s stoic Southern gentleman, affirmed to the Associated Press that the two aren’t even on speaking terms. In the interview, one of the only outlets thus far to eek out any details surrounding the shocking hiatus, Williams looks on the bright side and says if her musical partner won’t talk, even about the end, then it’s not here yet.
Despite this lack of finality, the discord between the pair known for their electric chemistry feels like a hurled brick. The exquisite push-and-pull between Williams’ velvet howl and White’s urban twang found on their career-making 2011 debut, Barton Hollow, endures on this self-titled sophomore release, seemingly undeterred by the friction weighing heavily on the star-crossed singers. If anything, the seething regret ripping them apart on lead single “The One That Got Away” benefits from and feeds off of current events. White’s keeping mum, but the way his electric guitar violently veers while Williams throws her head back to catapult the chorus reveals the cockles of his heart. The song’s punch casts a long shadow on the album’s 11 remaining tracks and only intensifies the ache to see it performed live.
Elsewhere, the programmed percussion on “Dust To Dust” threatens to cheapen the slow-burning lament, but, again, the cosmic blend of their timbres activates the most hardened tear ducts. The muddy “I Had Me A Girl” sounds like Jack White visited the pair in a dream and gave them permission to have fun. A belabored cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm” falls flat, a tremendous surprise considering The Civil Wars’ sterling track record of turning everyone from Michael Jackson to Leonard Cohen into coal miner’s daughters. If this is a parting gift, hand over the receipt.
— Janine Schaults
To read our full Spins section, check out the digital version of the August issue.