Album Review Wild Beasts - Smother

They can take risks like this with complete confidence.

Going into an album with no expectations is a good thing to do - that way, you’re not left disappointed. I’m not sure how many people did this with ‘Smother’, but I did. All I had was an assumption that it wouldn’t better ‘Two Dancers’. Fast forward a few months and I can say with certainty that it doesn’t, yet neither does it come up short. In many ways, the new Wild Beasts album is the equal of its predecessor.

Even still, there will be people who listen to this and scratch their heads in puzzlement. ‘How did they get here?’ Good question. How is it that the same band who made a thrillingly over-the-top debut (2008’s ‘Limbo, Panto’) can find themselves, just short of three years later, in their current position, with an album that is stripped back to an almost bare-bones degree (personified by the pulsing synths and beautiful piano line of opener ‘Lion’s Share’)?

It must have been that they didn’t want to repeat themselves even once, and while the new record’s lineage can obviously be traced back to ‘Two Dancers’ - the atmosphere of that album remains and has been intensified, and penultimate track ‘Burning’ is proof of this - the new ‘less is more’ philosophy can be even more keenly felt. Yet ironically, the band have had to draft in Katie Harkin from Sky Larkin to help out with the new stuff on tour; and Tom Fleming is on record as saying ‘doesn’t remember what was played’ during the album sessions ‘or who played it’.

Some things definitely have not changed, though. While Fleming takes lead vocals just as often as he did on ‘Two Dancers’, it’s Hayden Thorpe and his captivating countertenor voice that remain the band’s calling card. He’s toned things down considerably since the days of ‘Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants’ and its ilk, but still manages to impress, as he does during the soaring coda of ‘Loop the Loop’. (On that note: that song’s single potential is massive - I don’t think it’s just me who reckons it should have trailed the release of album instead of ‘Albatross’.)

In a similar fashion, the band are still concerned with matters of the heart, and it is here that the dual meanings behind the album title come in. This is a sensual record (sample lyric: ‘I would lie anywhere with you / Any old bed of nails would do’) but there are still hints of darkness throughout (‘You’re my plaything, and I’m wondering how cruel I’ve been’). The subject matter is dealt with brilliantly, and striking lines are all over the album, proving that even though they’ve undergone one of the most complete artistic metamorphoses of recent years, Wild Beasts are still fond of the element of surprise. How did they get here? I’m just as perplexed as anyone, but it hardly matters when they can take risks like this with complete confidence - and the results speak for themselves.

 

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