Wolf Alice review, Blue Weekend: The band are still intensely emotional, but more confident on their third album
“We have become adult songwriters. This is how Wolf Alice guitarist Joff Oddie describes the leap of confidence between the London rockers’ second album, Visions of a lifetime (2017) and Blue weekend. This is no small feat, given that enthusiasts of all genres Visions won the 2018 Mercury Prize and saw the quartet hailed as “Britain’s best band”.
But the minute the fans start playing Blue weekend, they will understand what Oddie means. The thrills of their teenage and early twenties tunes have been replaced with more assertive – but still intensely emotional – structures from singer-songwriter Ellie Rowsell. If you imagine their old songs like rally cars, the new ones are still driven just as wildly, but with a more steel focus and built-in safety cages. Like with Views, this third album sees the band leap between styles – folk, garage rock and shoegaze – only now they go deeper into the bends and control the skids.
Formed by Oddie and Rowsell as an acoustic folk duo in 2010 and blossoming into an amplified quartet with the addition of bassist Theo Ellis and drummer Joel Amey in 2012, the group has always had a feminist rage at its core. They take their name from Angela Carter’s 1979 short story: a “Little Red Riding Hood” subversion of a wild girl raised by wolves. “Like wild beasts,” Carter wrote, Wolf Alice “lives without a future. She lives only in the present, a fugue of the continuous, a world of sensual immediacy as hopeless as it is without despair.
That’s pretty much the group’s mission statement. This time, however, Rowsell seems to get even more personal. There are more love songs than before. If necessary, she controls her anger perfectly. In the press release for that album, she says that some people responded, with horror, to the phrase “I want to fuck all the people I meet” (from Visions’ “Yuk Foo”). “Like it was disgusting that I was someone having sex, or not afraid to talk about it. And then I felt annoyed that there were things people didn’t want. not that I am. ”It’s that feeling, she says, that inspired the new track,“ Smile ”.
In ’79, Angela Carter wrote that women “have our smiles, so to speak, painted. Those cool little smiles and pretty Mona Lisa smile we have to, no matter if it’s been fun or not. On the track, Rowsell whispers: “Don’t call me crazy / There is a difference, I’m angry / And your choice to call me cute offended me / I have power, there are people who depend on me… ”As Rowsell’s voice rises, softly free, over the chorus, Oddie’s guitar sinks into a raw riff full of muddy torque.
Elsewhere, Oddie wears his instrument more loosely, allowing notes to glide with cold ease over song bones. “The Beach” is built from a stammered strum. There is a lightness in the selection of “Safe from Heartbreak (If You Never Fall In Love)” which is complemented by the prettiness of Rowsell who hums about a lover who “f *** with my feelings”. He happily throws himself into the moshpit – with cheerleader claps, screams and a squeaky bass – on “Play the Greatest Hits”.
Other songs are controlled by keyboards. The sensual “Feeling Myself” has a 70s organ groove that wouldn’t have been out of place on St Vincent’s daddy’s house. “The Last Man on Earth” builds piano and vocals into a classic power ballad and takes a dizzying turn towards the end.
Despite the range of styles, the band has a continuing tendency to drift towards shoegazey sound blur. But on the penultimate track, “No Hard Feelings”, Oddie splashes notes with the soft, warm gray tones of the urban rain while Rowsell makes sense of a relationship ending. As she remembers the pain, she concludes, “There’s only one limit to sulking / What the heart can entertain / No hard feelings, honey.” Or, as Carter once wrote, “We must all be content with the rags of love that we find floating on the scarecrow of humanity. I think the author, who died in 1992, would have loved the group she inspired.