There’s a very striking line halfway through the fourth track on Wolf Alice’s third album, a sharp burst of anger just called Smile: “I am what I am and I’m good at it,” shouts Ellie Rowsell, “and you don’t like me, well, that’s not really relevant.
It’s a boastful thing, especially from someone whose public image, as Smile points out, is that of a sensitive artist, of a suspicious interviewee. Then again, maybe Wolf Alice has a right to boast. Two Top 5 albums, a Mercury Award and a Grammy nomination in their careers, they’ve come a long way in an environment where what would once have been called âindieâ music is supposed to struggle.
At first glance, they look like a very 2020s band, built for a pop world where relativity and soft aspiration are more important than glamor and the selling of dreams. For the full attention of Vogue – “Here’s how an It Brit does Glastonbury styleâ- Rowsell seems much moreâ the notoriously cool mate of the older sister âthanâ the rock star with otherworldly charisma â. His lyrics tend to deal with the daily frustrations of twenty-year-old life; whether it is in his character or not, it is a slight shock to hear him sing about the acceptance of drugs that are offered to him in Los Angeles on Blue Weekend’s Delicious Things.
Nor are they a group that has adhered to age-old rock mythology suggesting a more glamorous, weird, transgressive, and exciting life than yours. The 2017 tour documentary On the Road made Wolf Alice look like a job, a monotonous and exhausting series of slightly disappointing experiences that director Michael Winterbottom has compared to “a horrible form of camping.” Likewise, their most obvious musical references – shoegazing and grunge, a touch of Elastica about their more punky moments – largely date from the early ’90s. Their influences are skillfully applied, but audible enough to draw attention. an audience that remembers this stuff the first time. There is something out there for 16 year olds and BBC Radio 6 Music listeners who remember when the O2 Forum was called the Town and Country Club.
It’s a recipe for some level of success, but Blue Weekend is pretty obviously a slot for something bigger. The producer’s chair is occupied by Markus Dravs, whose CV – Coldplay, Arcade Fire, Florence + the Machine – suggests he’s just the kind of guy you phone if you find your ambitions run a little deeper. far than your current status. It’s a decision made worse by the circumstances: Trapped in a residential recording studio by the Covid pandemic, the band chose to spend their time polishing an album they previously thought was nearly finished.
The shift to something bigger can be the moment when performers falter, a glaring gap between ambition and ability is revealed, or the desire to perform on a bigger stage overwhelms the essence of what has. makes people like you in the first place. But it turns out that boldness suits Wolf Alice better than you might think. Listening to Blue Weekend, you are struck by an attractive impression that everything clicks into place. The sound is more polished and wider – the uplift and echo of the effects-laden guitars on Feeling Myself evoke an alternate universe in which Slowdive had played in stadiums; the punk explosion of Play the Greatest Hits rings out; The Last Man on Earth goes from a piano ballad to something epic – but the songs are strong enough to back it up, better written than anything on Wolf Alice’s previous albums. Never hollow, the refrains fly away, as on Delicious Things and How Can I Make It OK ?; the words are sharp and sometimes witty: “He had so many lovers / But nobody likes him,” sings Rowsell on the narcotic Feeling Myself.
Even the acoustically seemingly light Safe from Heartbreak (If You Never Fall in Love) has an Abba-esque melody and harmonized voice. Despite the litany of late 1920s worries in the lyrics – friendships crumble as priorities shift (The Beach); the continued allure of hedonism battling sneaky suspicions that it doesn’t provide the escape it once did (Delicious Things); the desire to maintain romantic relationships despite their obvious failures (“I’ll take you back, I know that sounds surprising,” Lipstick on the Glass shrugged) – Rowsell’s voice feels assured, confidently passing from whispered intimacy at the arena at full blast, screaming in anger at the glaciation of the cut glass.
Without wanting to accumulate unreasonable expectations, it has the distinct taste of an album that could be huge. There is something unmistakable about it, the haunting sound of a band doing what they do exceptionally well, so that even the most staunch opponents might be forced to understand their success. The kind of bluster you hear in Smile’s lyrics – and indeed throughout Blue Weekend – seems more understandable than ever.