There’s a lot to be said for a band perfecting their niche. With 2014’s ‘Present Tense’, Wild Beasts blossomed like never before. Taking their delicate, delirious, lovestruck sound and tightening every screw, it was the final tinkering of a beautiful engine, one that took the band to pole position. A decade in, though, and that edge-of-a-cliff, fight-or-flight instinct has taken over - with ‘Boy King’, they’re painting go-faster stripes all over their car and taking it for a drag race in the desert.
A fifth album u-turn that few could pull off, ‘Boy King’ is the sound of a band reborn. The core elements are all still there – that falsetto-baritone play-off between vocalists Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming as prominent as ever – but they’re glitched-up and garbled. Everything’s swathed in gaudy neon light and a sickening swagger, dripping with the sweat of the Texan heat it was recorded in. Opener ‘Big Cat’ asserts their newfound position as “top of the food chain”, and the subsequent forty minutes find the Kendal kings on the prowl, bellies to the ground.
Where before Wild Beasts bathed in soft textures, this time around they’re wailing away. ‘Get My Bang’’s obnoxious guitar solo is just the beginning – ‘He The Colossus’ repeatedly dips in and out of squalling electronics that even Skrillex might deem ‘a bit much’, while ‘Alpha Female’ feels fit to collapse with its laser-guided dogfight of high-gain guitars and blinding electronica. There’s thunderous rhythm backing every stomping step; a sense of grim urgency pushing everything forward.
Sexually charged like never before, Hayden’s practically breathless throughout. “I’ll be right behind ya,” he assures the namesake of ‘Alpha Female’. Tom’s every bit as cocksure too - ‘Ponytail’ may be a slicked-back grease-fest too far, but even the decidedly romantic currents of ‘2BU’ come with a looming shadow – “I’m the type of man who wants to watch the world burn,” he warns the object of his affection, a pick-up line fit for a dictator.
All that being said, though, there’s a freedom to ‘Boy King’ that reveals itself only after ‘Dreamliner’ offers its gentle, closing respite. Oppressive and overbearing though Wild Beasts’ return may be, there’s a sense of shackles being cast off – or (whisper it) fun being had. Playing up to the stereotypes of the modern, fuck-first-and-ask-questions-later male mentality, each repeat play unearths another almost audible grin, buried deep in the ‘Boy King’’s gutter, and it’s that which proves their masterstroke this time around. An impulsive transformation, they’re no longer agonising over every detail. Instead, the decade-old Wild Beasts are embracing the more carnal impulses of that moniker, and sounding all the more rejuvenated for it.
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