WOLF ALICE – BLUE WEEKEND
A hypnotic blend of dreamy pop and atmospheric grungy rock has made Wolf Alice hugely popular. With two hit albums, the last of which won the 2018 Mercury Prize, and streaming plays in the millions, they are clearly doing something right. To say that the new release Blue Weekend is eagerly anticipated would be putting it mildly.
The band are a four-piece from London, originally formed in 2010 by singer Ellie Rowsell and guitarist Joff Oddie. With Theo Ellis on bass and Joel Amey on drums, the current lineup came together in 2012, and the sound is augmented with keyboards and sequenced electronics. Debut album My Love Is Cool in 2015 and 2017’s fêted Visions Of A Life both reached number two in the UK charts. Expectations will be high for the follow-up, doubtless with a glance towards that coveted number one slot.
The band’s trump card is the breathy sensuality of Ellie’s vocal. The opening lines of The Beach (borrowed from Shakespeare, no less) are delivered clipped and synth-like, gradually expanding to a floaty dreaminess before rising to something majestic and symphonically choral. The track is likewise a massive build from a simple but insistent damped strum, gathering overlapping layers of synths and voices as it snowballs towards a crescendo. Delicious Things flits between a lush chorus and a sparser verse with a contemporary pop feel. Its conspiratorially rapped lyric does a fine job conveying the weirdness of suddenly finding yourself amongst the LA party set.
“I don’t care, I’m in the Hollywood Hills
I’m no longer pulling pints, I’m no longer cashing tills”
The steamy vocal on Lipstick On The Glass wafts over a guitar motif with a gorgeous tone, as waves of reverb and delay gently envelop the listener. The production expands, with layer after layer gliding effortlessly into the mix. It’s a lovely piece of sensual pop whose silky stylings remind me of the work of Goldfrapp. Second single, Smile, changes the mood somewhat, powered by an urgent guitar riff over an insistently ascending synth line. Everything is heavily processed with an otherworldly electronic feel that puts me in mind of Muse. Ellie spits out a wonderfully self-affirming verse over rumbling bass and busy drums before the sound soars into a magnificently expansive chorus with a lip-smackingly delicious chord progression.
There’s plenty of variety on this album. The layered vocals on Safe From Heartbreak, arranged over dancing arpeggios of acoustic guitar, give it a feel of country Americana. How Can I Make It OK? is pure synth-pop that builds steadily from a gentle start, while Play The Greatest Hits hits the ground running with its full-tilt punky grunge. The high-pitched, high-tempo vocal squeals playfully over undulating waves of fuzz bass punctuated by handclaps. It’s a lot of fun, but the machine-gun lyrical delivery hints at something deeper.
“I leave the present empty, but I make it gift wrapped”
We’re back to sensual electronica with Feeling Myself, a paean to self-love. The dream-pop setting is flicked to high, as delicately bobbing verses float gently towards a more climatic torrent of keyboard sustain. Lead single Last Man On Earth is a reflective piano-led piece. You just know that a massive build-up is on the way, but it teasingly holds off for a couple of minutes before kicking in with vast choral vocals and swirling eddies of synth.
The current single No Hard Feelings is a sweet vocal over a lovely plucked guitar riff that bounces along, swathed in delay. The accompanying video is set at the colourfully lit bus stop that features on the album cover. Closing track The Beach II provides a pleasing circularity to this suite of songs. As the title suggests, it links lyrically to the opening number. The vibe here is more gentle and positive, although the intro and play out muster an impressive array of electronic noises to supplement the twanging guitar.
There are many facets to Wolf Alice, with plenty on display in this varied selection of maturely considered and lavishly developed songs. One danger of making such an eclectic album is that it ends up sounding like a production showreel, but Blue Weekend manages to maintain an overall coherence and will doubtless be a worthy nomination for the various music prizes. With luck, it might just secure that elusive number one chart placing too.
BLUE WEEKEND is released on Dirty Hit on 4th June 2021.
Lipstick on The Glass
Safe from Heartbreak (if you never fall in love)
How Can I Make It OK?
Play the Greatest Hits
The Last Man on Earth
No Hard Feelings
The Beach II