Wild Beasts have always been capable of standing out in a crowd. It’s a default mode that goes hand in hand with Hayden Thorpe’s purring falsetto, maybe the most divisive vocal going. On fourth album ‘Present Tense’ however, this sore thumb technique manifests itself in a bolder form. Backing up its overarching title, the band come out kicking and screaming. In turn, they arrive with a record that sums up and calls foul on a post-millennial misery, better than anything previous.
The ‘Present Tense’ that Wild Beasts describe - and attack - is one that has its easy targets. The superrich, business-first 1% flicker into view. On opener ‘Wanderlust’, Hayden adopts their malaise-defined persona. ‘Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck,’ he coos, practically sneering at the lower classes. Anything this overly, obviously political often dives headfirst into a ditch. Intentions are fine but execution is a very different thing. But when Wild Beasts take on this lofty task, it’s not some spontaneous choice to come off politically conscious. It’s a necessity.
In a record that’s often terrifying (Tom Fleming’s lead on ‘Daughters’, a song about the youth rising up and ‘sharpening their blades’ being the highlight), the band’s waltz with evil actually sounds beautiful. That’s completely owed to Hayden’s vocal, a smooth centre to a spike-encrusted torrent of frustration. It’s unlikely he’ll ever sound sharper than on ‘Simple Beautiful Truth’, pristine 80s nodding pop of the highest order. ‘Palace’ is a colossal closer too, beauty epitomised as the band busy themselves with newly acquired riches (‘this is a palace, and that was a squat’). The whole battle is framed within Wild Beasts’ conventional, love-obsessed default. ‘Mecca’ is a seduced single in waiting. But that’s about the only aspect of ‘Present Tense’ that could be linked into the band’s previous three records.
This is a perhaps clinically insane, potential tragedy of an album. It carries so many risks, such a vast amount of dead ends just around the corner, it’s practically begging to trip up on its shoelaces. A record designed to sum up our life and times and come up with a solution? Yeah, right. If anything, this brutally honest, politically charged, dagger-sharp pop album should sound like Billy Bragg falling asleep and collapsing on a Casio. Instead, its risks are rewarded, time and time again. After ‘Smother”s woozy lullaby frenzy, ‘Present Tense’ is Wild Beasts growing a new pair of fangs. Their most complete record by a serious stretch, it’s a work that laughs, cries, detests, adores and above anything else inspires.
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