The Virgins started getting press and feedback on their new material for Strike Gently back in October, though not the kind they were expecting. That was when the New York Post decided that a few noise complaints about a local band’s frequent practices was news and published an article featuring a couple of hilarious curmudgeon reviews from disgruntled neighbors. They should be glad they weren’t around in 2008 for the band’s eponymous debut, a decidedly beat-heavier affair that might very well have caused move-outs. The Virgins was a youthful exhibition of snot-nosed dance-rock, and its Rolling Stone-favorited single “Rich Girls” even lent itself handily to a slew of electron-ified remixes.
Don’t expect much of the same offshoot from Strike Gently. On their sophomore LP, The Virgins move the focus away from dance and towards arrangements that expose a more serious, introspective frontman in Donald Cumming. Five years, three new bandmates, one marriage, and spells of self-doubt separated these two efforts for Cumming, but with Strike Gently, it almost sounds as if he spent all his time off trying to internalize every essential popular rock album of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Whereas the rhythm guitar played a leading, dominant role on almost every track from their debut, it’s void from the forefront here – changing the conversation on The Virgins’ general forebears from, roughly, INXS to Petty. If ever there were legitimate criticisms on The Virgins as disco-dependent one-trick ponies, Strike Gently renders them fallacious. “Wheel of Fortune” straddles a curious line between “Boys of Summer” and surf rock revivalism, while “Figure on the Ice” and closer “Blue Rose Tattoo” are a pair of slow-burners fit for night drives, mobs of waving BIC lighters, or maybe beer tears.
Strike Gently is also the first official release on Cult Records, the label recently founded by Julian Casablancas of The Strokes. It’s almost too obvious that a band that kinda looks like The Strokes, sorta sounds like The Strokes, and is currently making moves like The Strokes would get that nod, but don’t typecast The Virgins just yet. Like Casablancas’, Cumming’s band was thought dead not too long ago, yet here they are: at a point of reinvention that offers them far more possible new directions than it denies.
Essential Tracks: “Wheel of Fortune,” “Figure on the Ice,” and “Travel Express (For Me)”