Shy artists often make fierce performers: sometimes it’s easier to shed inhibitions within the parameters of a stage and the lines of a song. “I ain’t afraid though my steps appear tentative / I scope it out then I throw myself into it,” Wolf Alice’s lead singer Ellie Rowsell snarls on ‘Smile’, the second single from ‘Blue Weekend’. “I ain’t ashamed in the fact that I’m sensitive.”
Wolf Alice may be sensitive, but they’re never soft. For ten years, Rowsell’s expressed the ordinary yet extraordinary experience of being a young woman in the world, and the band set that experience to songs that ignite live audiences as rapidly as they ignite innermost emotion.
As Wolf Alice ascended indie heights, they also built up a formidable live reputation. When they won the Mercury for their 2017 album ‘Visions Of A Life’, it only confirmed what every gig-goer already knew. The beloved London rock band have always cut a path around orbiting genres, placing pop riffs at the centre of noisy guitar music. ‘Blue Weekend’, their third album, finds them even less inclined to get comfy in one sound for too long.
An island of an album, ‘Blue Weekend’ is bookended by beaches, but possesses varied terrain within. A frenzied bass licks at the corners of brat-punk tunes ‘Play The Greatest Hits’ and ’Smile’. Remember our wild live shows, they seem to suggest with a raised eyebrow.
Thunderous basslines set the speakers reeling on ‘How Can I Make It OK?’, too, pitched against the gull cry of Rowsell’s voice, looping like a hall of mirrors. Elsewhere on ‘Blue Weekend’ are go-for-broke ballads, synthy numbers, intimate mic moments. If Wolf Alice have a sound, it might be summed up with the song title ‘Safe From Heartbreak (if you never fall in love)’: big capitalised moments followed by whispered lowercase qualms and qualifiers. Among the track’s gently lapping ABBA harmonies wash up occasional stone-cold lines: “you fucked with my feelings”.
For Rowsell also swerves away from lyrical comfort zones, relishing a new openness in her song-writing. She’s a girl being gazed at: by herself, by others, desired and undesired. “I watch you as you’re watching me,” she purrs on ‘Feeling Myself’. She’s drinking margaritas in the Hollywood hills on ‘Delicious Things’, in bed with a bad man, far away from her old life “cashing tills”. Her strong turn as ‘Summertime Sadness’-era Lana Del Rey surely ought to earn the band their stateside break.
California luxe lingers right to the record’s close, ‘The Beach II’, where the sun shines like liquid rose upon “my girls on the beach / happy ever after”. A bittersweet, transitory snapshot, and yet timeless: much like Wolf Alice’s work, which deals in both kinds of emotion with great skill. ‘Blue Weekend’ is a ballsy idyll of feeling: the sound of a band satisfying themselves rather than proving themselves, and completely filling the space they’ve carved out over the years.