Review by Bernard Zuel.
WOLF ALICE – Blue Weekend (Dirty Hit/Liberator)
Restless and inquisitive or unable to focus? Eclectic or scattergun? Ambitious and bold or ambition greater than sense?
Albums like this from Wolf Alice – or in many ways, their previous two albums, including 2017’a rather successful and Mercury Prize-winning Visions Of A Life – are rarely places for the middle ground in opinion, just as they don’t have a middle ground themselves.
So, if you like your acts to have a sound, or maybe two modes at most, and find a peripatetic muse a pain in the arse, step away from the Wolf Alice album right now. However, if you’re up for a trip with multiple destinations though, step in and blindfolded-like, put your finger on a track randomly.
Let’s see, where did you land? Track 7, Play The Greatest Hits. Ah yes, the triple speed, proto-punk metal song that sees Ellie Rowsell straining at the edges of her voice while she and fellow guitarist Joff Oddie race ahead of the already fast-running rhythm section of Theo Ellis (whose fingers must be bloodied) and Joel Amey (whose arms would be ready to drop off).
It’s two and half minutes of throwing something at the wall – probably their own bodies – and you’d imagine equally as tiring to listen to if it were the whole album. But immediately on its heels comes the moody, slowly arpeggiating wave of the Cocteau Twins-like Feeling Myself.
In there, while Rowsell compares a lover, who’s been busy but not necessarily very good, with her own deeply satisfying ministrations (yes, when she says feeling myself she isn’t being metaphorical), it’s keyboards and echo, heavy air and light guitars transforming into a climax of thick sounds and crashing chords. Musically and personally it’s a slow hand at work. And it’s very fine work indeed.
Ok, where’s your finger land next? Track 4, Smile? Hmm, yes, some confident swagger, a strong Desert Sessions grind and cocksure bass, then over the top a voice that is kept back in the mix just enough to make you lean in before a chorus that flies right over/at you as if Curve had merged with Queens Of The Stone Age.
But what’s on its heels? Safe From Heartbreak (if you never fall in love), a song which touches on First Aid Kit prettiness, offers just enough layered airiness to have a critic hit the “ethereal” key on his keyboard just as it turns into some late ’60s family harmony group, and throws a few words at someone who’s “fucked with my feelings”, but not her ability to navigate past.
This is the pattern of Blue Weekend: a zig (what would Fleetwood Mac sound like from Sweden a decade later? Have How Can I Make It Ok?), then a zag; a twist (ever thought of Portishead imagined as a dream pop band? Lucky for you, here’s Delicious Things), then a turn. Impressive in variety and ability to nail the style. But that’s the easy part in many ways.
What’s more impressive is that each turn feels self-contained but connected. There’s a central line, probably rooted through Ellis’s basslines, that holds the band’s identity, and a top line, probably hooked through Rowsell’s delivery, that lets you know they’re confident in each move.
“I won’t say no, I’ll give it a go,” as Rowsell sings.
What’s most impressive though, is just how good they all are. A proper old school rock band – who sound anything but merely old school – Wolf Alice just own this multi-room, multi-dimensional space by sheer quality, not just chutzpah.