Having narrowly missed out on last year’s Mercury Prize, there is suddenly a weight of expectation surrounding Wild Beasts. Part of their charm is their apparent inability to conform to the expectations of a mainstream audience, but they are a band that undoubtedly deserve to be recognised by a wider circle. Debut album Limbo, Panto and the stunning Two Dancers saw themselves cast as an eccentric band of outsiders, a title which they are unlikely to shake off with the release of their third album, Smother.
The enticing introduction of album opener ‘Lion’s Share’ showcases the band’s subtle development from their previous work. Bassist Tom Fleming is now more prominent as a soulful crooner, somewhat reminiscent of Antony Hegarty. They are now co-lead singers, with his vocals perfectly complimenting Hayden Thorpe’s extraordinary falsetto throughout.
Their literary influences come to the fore in ‘Bed Of Nails’, which, if there is any justice, will be a future hit single. It’s an arousing, joyful song which appears to be the closest they have ever come to a conventional pop song, albeit with references to both Hamlet and Frankenstein, as Thorpe wails “I want my lips to blister when we kiss” with the utmost urgency.
Another standout track is ‘Loop The Loop’, where the sparse arrangement sets the tone for a truly beautiful and weary vocal, although the lyric “I’ve made enough enemies” is somewhat hard to believe. The erotic ‘Plaything’ quickly follows, led by an intense tribal drum rhythm whilst Thorpe seductively sighs: “undo your chemise and I’ll do as I please.” You don’t get that with The Wombats.
The stunning finale of ‘End Come Too Soon’ encapsulates everything that is brilliant about this record. Yet another sparse arrangement gives way to a tense, yet euphoric climax, which finally descends into a gorgeous lullaby. It’s an understated end to the album, but in this case, less is most definitely more.
The intricate and delicate splendor of these songs will most certainly see their stock rise once again, and there are bound to be few arguments if, or rather when, Smother is hailed as an album of the year. It’s a devastatingly beautiful album – both heart wrenching and sensual in equal measure. Wild Beasts have raised the bar and set the standard here, it’s for everybody else to play catch up.
From Craig Jones.