In a simple but swaggering strum, acoustic guitars stoke the flames of a folky melody at the starting point in “Paris,” the latest single from acclaimed singer/songwriter Whitebeard released earlier this month to a modest reception from critics and fans. They’re not the only evocative instrument that’s vying for our affections in the inaugural bars of this ballad; they’re joined by a plaintive piano and a melancholic croon from Whitebeard, whose weathered reflections provide us with a personable side of his artistry that was missing from previous efforts and finds a most welcome home here. The dirge of an understated drumbeat doesn’t spice up the track as much as I would hope for it to, but be that as it may, “Paris” is an engaging slow song that relies more on substance than superficiality to make an emotive statement.
Whitebeard plods through the verses at half the speed of the percussion, and rather than this forcing an interesting swing into the rhythm, it kind of interrupts the fluidity of the lyrics, at least in the first few stanzas. We chug along until we get to the chorus, where the instrumentation and the vocal finally synchronize, but it doesn’t last very long – once the cathartic resonance of the hook fades away, we’re back in the uncomfortable position of being wedged between the grind of the drums and the molasses-like melody in the singing.
The production value of “Paris” is the most alluring quality to be discovered in its four minutes and twenty seconds of play, as it’s far and away the most sophisticated of anything that Whitebeard has committed to master tape thus far. If he had put a little more effort into making the flow of the song as seamless as its mix is, I think this could have been the track to break him into the mainstream; but alas, “Paris” is ultimately a stepping stone for a songwriter who has the chops but isn’t quite prepared for the primetime (yet).
We conclude with an instrumental salvo that serves as the finale for the song and brings us full circle to where we first started out in the acoustic hum of the intro. As many times as I’ve listened to this track, I’ve yet to completely understand what audience that Whitebeard was most trying to appeal to – indie or mainstream. There’s shades of both sides of the dial in this single, and if anything, I think that “Paris,” and really all of Plaid Is the New Black, is a symbolic statement piece about the creatively transitional place that this singer/songwriter is in at the moment.