Album Review: Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend (Dirty Hit)
For a band at the peak of their powers, with a mercury prize under their arm and a headline set on the Radio 1 stage at Reading and Leeds behind them, it seems a bold choice to take such a long time between all that success and your next project, and yet here we are with Wolf Alice. Four years and a pandemic understandably changes a band but in Blue Weekend Wolf Alice have created the archetypal 20-somethings album, equal parts jaded, vulnerable, angry and unapologetically confident.
The album kicks off with The Beach,a slow building pop song that has burst into a dozen directions by the end. The muted acoustic guitar works well with the repetitive drums and bass to create a perfect backing to the vocals. Rowsell give herself perfect harmonies to build into a climax that would be right at home in the soundtrack to a mid 2010’s coming of age masterpiece. Following on from the opening track, Delicious Things, starts off with a drum fill I can only describe as Tranquillity-Base-Hotel-and-Casino-esque before falling into dreamy chants and some brilliant use of guitar pedals. Rowsell describes being exposed to a totally new life of excess and decadence as a British rock star experiences Los Angeles for the first time. “I’m alive I feel like Marilyn Monroe, if you’re all popping pills you know I won’t say no” sums up the wonder and excitement of the first half of the track but soon it naturally becomes too much, with a phone call back home needed to feel grounded again. The whole track comes together brilliantly and makes 5:15 feel like 3 minutes at most, with perfectly executed rises and falls that come and go as naturally as the tide, making for one of the best songs on the album.
Lipstick on the Glass follows, sonically mixing elements from the first two tracks to create a semi-Kate Bush sounding slow burning pop song with some of Rowsell’s best vocals ever put on track and a chorus that drags the listener from the beautifully dreamy world of the verse into the dark underbelly of what Wolf Alice are capable of. The band then unashamedly show their teeth in track four, the second single released from the album, Smile. Echoing back to a song like Formidable Cool from their previous release Wolf Alice take their first opportunity on the album to show why they are one of the most divergent bands in the country right now. Lines like “don’t call me mad there’s a difference I am angry, and your choice to cute has offended me” delivered in a semi-spoken word performance from a Rowsell at the peak of her powers helps the song overflow with an infectious attitude. A dirty sounding bass breakdown around the two-minute mark then explodes into the floaty chorus which throughout the song juxtaposes the verses perfectly.
In typical Wolf Alice fashion, the next track, Safe From Heartbreak (if you never fall in love), displays a tenderness that serves as the antithesis from the previous track. Lyrically replacing the “fuck you and what you think” attitude for a far more vulnerable approach, starting and finishing with the lyrics “I ain’t a play thing, to make life exciting, I have feelings.” The song almost unexplainably feels a million miles away from Smile whilst still maintaining a consistent feel throughout that makes for the most together Wolf Alice project ever released. I don’t know if it’s a stroke of pure genius from whoever was in charge of the track listing or if black magic was performed but whatever they did it fucking worked. How Can I Make It OK is Wolf Alice at the most unapologetically ‘pop’ they have ever been with light synths and vocals synergising better than at any other point on the album and a guitar riff coming in just before the 2 minute mark that sounds like it was ripped directly out of a tender moment in a John Hughes film.
For the second and last time on the album Wolf Alice show their grungey side with Play the Greatest Hits. Instrumentally a spiritual sister to Yuk Foo from Visions of a Life this is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 2-and-a-half-minute speed-induced-panic-attack with a vocal performance that, after the glossy indie pop of the previous track, almost melts the listeners ears, in the best way possible. Lyrically, the irony of the line “it isn’t loud enough” probably being a peak for decibels on the whole album won’t be lost on any of the listeners. It also seems poignant that this album is by far the least outwardly aggressive from the band and the most aggressive song on the album feels like fans constantly demanding the band play what they want to hear and not what the band want to play. I must admit that the next track, Feeling Myself, was one that passed me by on first listen. It may have been because my ears were blown out by Play the Greatest Hits but on second listen it felt as if someone had added the song in, standing out to me immediately with the opening line “He’s had so many lovers, don’t mean he’s been pleasing anyone.” An initially reserved track, with vocals at a near whisper, explodes into a cinematic cacophony of a chorus fit for any Dennis Villeneuve film that exudes confidence, this is Rowsell and Wolf Alice at their peak and they know that you know it.
Next up was the lead single from the album The Last Man On Earth, a beautifully tender ballad that adds another string to the bow of this already eclectic album. Guitar sounds appear here that sound almost unrecognisable to the instrument they are coming from, in typical Joff Odie fashion and what starts off as one of the most intimate tracks Wolf Alice have ever recorded, with just Rowsells vocals and a piano, explodes into joyous musings about someone so selfish they think they may actually be the last man on earth. Backed by an ensemble instrumental performance that is the band at their most ambitious and most cohesive. The third single, No Hard Feelings, comes in at track ten. The honesty of the track grabs the listener and forces them to feel what Rowsell has clearly been put through, making up for the incredibly stripped back instrumental. You can’t help but feel an immense feeling of melancholic empathy when the line “the threads that kept us together were already wearing thin, would we ever had tied the knot well how long is a piece of string?” is sung with such a childlike innocence that it feels like it can’t be about an engagement that didn’t go any further. I don’t think I was ever expecting a song as honest as this to be released by the band, not because of anything to do with the band themselves, but because something so personal is so hard to come by these days. When you mix that personability with a feeling of universal inevitability you have what Wolf Alice have created here, 2 minutes 44 seconds of beautiful reflection.
The album then finishes with Beach II, a joyous indie pop song that, yet again, explodes in a cinematic way that only Wolf Alice know how to do. The influence from former Arcade Fire producer Markus Dravs is most clear at this point with a dreamy riff spear heading what feels like the peak of an indie films coming of age montage around the 2-and-a-half-minute mark.
Overall, this album may not be what every Wolf Alice fan wanted to see from the band, with only a handful of truly angry punk songs I expect some fans may take issue with the albums more subtle approach, but the truth is this is unquestionably the band at their most cohesive. The track list flows in a way that no Wolf Alice release before has ever done whilst still flexing every muscle fans have come to know from the band and showing new sides to themselves that I didn’t think were ever going to see the light of day. After so long without a release it’s incredible to see a band so comfortably the best they have ever been whilst still being so honest with themselves and their listeners.
Blue Weekend is released via Dirty Hit Records on Fri June 4.