Friday, June 04, 2021

Wolf Alice are Reborn on Masterpiece ‘Blue Weekend’

10 years on, Wolf Alice have been reborn into a band with a newfound confidence. 

The London four-piece began as an acoustic duo back in 2010 consisting of Ellie Rowsell and guitarist Joff Oddie, later growing into a four-piece band with bassist Theo Ellis and drummer Joel Amey.

With lyrics from Rowsell telling the familiar stories of youth, womanhood, and friendship teamed up with impressive live performances the band were noticed early on. After a run of successful EP’s, they released their debut album ‘My Love is Cool’ in 2015, receiving a Grammy nomination for the track ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’. 2017’s ‘Vision of Life’ followed and overcame the curse of the second album winning the Mercury Prize in 2018.


After endless touring which was the subject of a 2017 documentary from notable director Michael Winterbottom, Rowsell recalled “We stopped touring, I thought ‘Fuck, I haven’t written any songs”. The band retreated to an Air B’n’B in Somerset and began to retrace who they were together away from the festival and tour bus madness and began to lay the foundations for ‘Blue Weekend’.


The album is a masterpiece. As is often the case with bands around the third or fourth album, Wolf Alice have returned after four years with an ambition to see what they themselves are capable of, and this stretch has paid off. Rowsell has evolved as a songwriter and singer considerably, if she was our friend previously joining us in our youth to work out how relationships and growing up works, now she returns with some answers. She has mastered the ability to tell us a story objectively so that we relate and identify but simultaneously makes each lyric personal to her in a confessional way that impressively avoids self-indulgence and too much melancholia.


The album creeps in with the first track ‘The Beach’, but this is not a slipping in the side entrance so that nobody sees you creep in, it is a slow stride in with confidence. The band know they no longer need to grab anybody’s attention from the first note.


The second track ‘Delicious Things’ is halfway between old Wolf Alice and new. The band have noted that they used to throw everything they had at an album until something stuck, but on ‘Blue Weekend’ there is a craftsmanship that only comes with experience and maturity. Producer Markus Dravs sure played a large part in this craftmanship having worked with artists such as Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons. 

Oddie explained that “the maturity of the record might’ve been encouraged by the fact that Markus was making us question each of the individual parts of a song. So by questioning its intention I think it makes things more refined.” 

Each part of this track is perfected, and each person is doing their job to the highest standard and with complete confidence. Rowsell’s vocals are strong and powerful, something rarely noted before, with the recurring lyric “I won’t say no/ I’ll give it a go” she feels free in a way you only truly can when self-assurance has been acquired and proves she has made the distinct jump from early twenties panic to the relinquishing of control you experience in your late twenties.


There is a stadium-filling atmosphere to ‘Lipstick on the Glass’. The opening sounds are reminiscent of bands like Razorlight and Stereophonics which is pleasantly surprising from Wolf Alice. Rowsell sings in a higher pitch that feels authentically emotional but also direct in the way she shares each word, and each is shared with complete self-belief. There are Britpop-esque drums from Amey and experimentation with faster paces that compliment Oddie’s electric riffs and hedonistic theme. For a band that was once described as solely acoustic, they are in some ways unrecognisable.


The inspiration for the fourth track ‘Smile’ stemmed from previous reactions to ’Yuk Foo’ from the band's second album. Lyrics such as “I wanna fuck all the people I meet” were met with horror from some fans and this angered Rowsell, she said it was “as if it was gross that I should be someone who has sex, or is not afraid to talk about it”. The defiant track begins with a riff that could have been borrowed from Kasabian and battles through its three minutes with rock-star glamour. Rowsell is a punk singer on this track, brushing off the haters with lyrics like “I am what I am and I’m good at it/ and if you don’t like me then it isn’t fucking relevant”. Another festival main stage track with good amounts of spotlight on talented bass player Ellis and unrelenting drummer Amey.


The band jumps from genre to genre throughout the album, with the running theme of relationships of all kinds with all kinds of people. They are folky and sound like the Beatles on ‘Safe from Heartbreak (If You Never Fall in Love)’ and then punk rock on ‘Play the Greatest Hits’. The former is a folky track with backing vocals from Ellis that remind us of Simon and Garfunkel and lyrics that defend the idea of being non-committal to avoid a broken heart. The latter is a punk song where Rowsell sounds like a teenage girl who and doesn’t give a f***, the story of the crazy times in life is told where everything is happening in a blur around you, and you find yourself in someone’s kitchen where there’s no time for album tracks but only the greatest hits. 

The band have avoided falling into the trap of making each song flow into the next in the way that new bands feel they need to, the focus is the story, and therefore the ordering is irrelevant.


The Last Man on Earth’ is the album’s stand-out track, although there are arguable many. Debuted by Annie Mac on Radio 1, the song has been a hit due to its poignant vulnerability and musical craftsmanship. This is a breath-taking song that would be memorable live, Rowsell’s lyrical progression shines through with lyrics “And when your friends are talking/ you hardly hear a word/ you were the first person here/ and the last man on earth”. She tells a story of a narcissist whose mind you can never penetrate, complied with gorgeous piano that is so outstanding it can be compared to John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’.


Throughout ‘Blue Weekend’ Wolf Alice draw on previously under-used strengths that they now have the trust and the audience to explore. Amey, who has an interest in production, has explored the programming of the album with refreshing and notable results. Oddie has noted that he “spent a lot of time working with acoustic instruments, trying to play them in different ways” which has paid off with fantastic results. Rowsell is four different singers on this album and a poet in a truly accomplished and impressive way. 

This is a new time for Wolf Alice where their audience will surely quadruple as there is plenty to go around for anyone’s musical tastes and something that everybody needs to hear. Wolf Alice’s 2021 UK tour is sure to be an experience that nobody would want to miss.


Daisy Fitzgerald.

Instagram: @daisyfitz2

Twitter: @daisymayfitz

Image: Offical album artwork


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