Text: Paul van der Zalm

It has been four years since the release of Visions Of A Life, Wolf Alice’s second album, with which the band quite fittingly won the Mercury Prize. With this album and the connected worldwide tour the quartet around Ellie Rowsell definitively claimed a place as headliner. This was aptly portrayed by director Michael Winterbottom, who followed the band for some time. Outside of England, the tour concluded at Tivoli Vredenburg (in Utrecht, the Netherlands) in December 2018 and after that it went quiet, apart from a sign of life in 2020, Rowsell’s contribution to Mura Masa’s ‘Teenage Heartache Dreams’.

So we were also pleasantly surprised when, in February of this year, a new single was suddenly dropped that immediately grabbed us by the lash. ‘The Last Man On Earth’ starts simply with a tight piano rhythm and a simple vocal line, but then almost imperceptibly grows to epic proportions, especially when the band enters halfway through and a number of layers are added, including a string arrangement; this even results in a short Beatle-esque intermezzo towards the end. The song is not directed at a specific person, but at humanity in general. Instead of the music video that accompanies this song, we recommend this version that was recorded for Jools Holland’s program.

The release of the single also marked the announcement of the new album ‘Blue Weekend’, which is released today (a week ahead of schedule). For the recordings, the band retreated to Somerset, far away from all the hustle and bustle. The band members stayed in an Airbnb, were able to work on demos in a converted church and found inspiration for new songs. Drummer Joel Amey immersed himself in the music software Ableton and guitar player Joff Oddie explored possibilities of using acoustic instruments and stacking their sound. 

To start with the good news: the familiar Wolf Alice sound has remained, so fans can buy the album with confidence. What is immediately noticeable, however, is that there is even more depth on all levels, both musically and lyrically. Rowsell seems to have taken the Song Contest motto, “Open up,” to heart and now allows feelings that were previously hidden away to run free. Whereas on the debut album ‘My Love Is Cool’ love songs were taboo, now almost all songs are about relationships and there is a song for every mood.

Opening track ‘The Beach’ opens with a simple bass line from bass player Theo Ellis and vulnerable vocals from Rowsell. However, the track develops like a suddenly rising storm by the sea and far too suddenly you are swamped and the song is over. Liberation does not come with closing track ‘The Beach II’, because that song sounds threatening from the start. Remarkable are the guitar sounds as we know them from the Cocteau Twins. ‘Delicious Things’ seems to be a metaphor for the wonder of what the band has achieved; it’s about a girl who can’t believe she’s in Los Angeles. In conversational vocals, she reports on this, interspersed with an overwhelming chorus. With ‘Lipstick On the Glass’ we stay in Hollywood spheres for a while, because although you can characterize this song as a typical Wolf Alice song, at the same time the sound of a soulful 70’s soundtrack comes through, with many layers. This makes it one of the highlights of the album. Then there is sincere anger in the second single “Smile”, a solid song with a special video clip, in which Rowsell deals with the negative reactions she received to the explicit lyrics of “Yuk Foo” from the previous album. Her instructions are: “Wind it up and this honeybee stings, wind her up and this honeybee sings”. In the sensual and intimate ‘Feeling Myself’, she therefore goes the extra mile. It’s a song that starts with whispering vocals and an organ, but further contains a lot of drama and dynamics, with fanning out guitar sounds and ending with the organ again. The scream vocals that we know from ‘Yuk Foo’ return in ‘Play The Greatest Hits’.

On the album we find three truly emotional love songs. The moody “Safe From Heartbreak {If You Never Fall In Love}” seems to be addressed mainly to the singer herself, because, deviating from the title, she sings “If I Never Fall in Love”. The message is supported by a devout chorus and notable is the male second voice. In “How Can I Make It OK?” that second voice appears again by Rowsell herself, in a clever vocal arrangement. The construction of this song is also more than okay and the title lingers like an earworm. After the sadness comes the resignation; that’s the thrust of ‘No Hard Feelings’ about the end of a relationship. It is sung full of compassion and also the bass loop makes it a light song after all. In the music video you can see the bus stop from the album cover.

Producer Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Bj√∂rk, Florence + The Machine) played an important role in the balance of this album by having the band look critically at the construction of each track. Only for a song like “Delicious Things” was the opposite path taken and a song actually stripped down.

Is there any bad news? Yes, there is. In the first place you can ask yourself why the band has chosen this particular album cover and in the second place whether there will be a better album released this year than this one by Wolf Alice.

Dirty Hit

Photo credit: Jordan Hemingway