Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend
Alternative Rock | Dream Pop
Looking back, my thoughts on Visions Of A Life feel pretty at odds with the general consensus. While Wolf Alice were picking up critical acclaim and a Mercury Prize for their second album, I spent a long time struggling in vain to try and connect with it. While I certainly wouldn’t call it a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, I won’t deny that I left feeling disappointed. It wasn’t wall-to-wall hits like its predecessor My Love Is Cool, and a fair bit of the nuance in the way they wove together the heavy and atmospheric moments felt missing, dealing far more in black and white than in subtle shades of grey. It did see them begin to play around with more textured and ambitious soundscapes, but these moments didn’t feel developed enough to quite make up for what was missing. I never really felt compelled to return to it and ultimately it caused me to fall out of love with the band for a while.
With that in mind, delving into Blue Weekend unburdened of hype, I’m struck by how the band have upped their ambitions. Opening slow burner ‘The Beach’ begins reminiscent of their early work on the softer side of Blush, but as it progresses you hear those tiny buds of grandeur that they nurtured on their last record finally blossom and unfurl. The band’s more atmospheric shoegaze side is the best it has ever been and really becomes the driving force of the whole album. They’ve got their nuance back and then some, as there’s an ever present dreamy haze, wonderfully layered and expressive, that seems to shift effortlessly to fit the feel of each track. Hitting repeat it almost feels like it’s never the same record twice, as your attention is called to some other vibrant aspect of the lush soundscape that passed you by on the last playthrough.
And hitting repeat is something you’ll want to do often as it’s hard not to be drawn back to the incredibly strong opening run. From ‘The Beach’ we dip into the intoxicating haze of ‘Delicious Things’, which uses the record’s most lofty and kaleidoscopic cathedral ceiling of sound to replicate the rush of fame and the vibe of life in the fast lane in L.A. We then find ourselves flowing seamlessly into album highlight ‘Lipstick On The Glass’, whose verses would sound well at home on Jeff Buckley’s Grace, and whose bittersweet chorus boasts the album’s most memorable hook. It also makes for the perfect example of how Ellie Rowsell’s vocals have grown so much more assured and captivating on this release, able to be crystal clear and ethereal to cut through the mist, as well as follow every rise and fall as yet another layer of the delightful dream pop atmosphere.
Blue Weekend strikes an excellent balance. Their more fleshed out dream pop sound offers a unifying thread that makes this by far their most cohesive work, but the band also push the limits of that thread as far as they can by toying with different styles and ideas, which means there are plenty of distinct moments that stand up well on their own this time around. The gorgeous folky harmonies of ‘Safe From Heartbreak (If You Never Fall In Love)’ is every bit as elegant as The Staves, while the retro 80s pop opening of ‘How Can I Make It OK?’ gives way to an utterly stunning bass tone with new layers forming around it with each passing second. ‘Feeling Myself’ punctuates a poignant nightscape reminiscent of REM’s ‘New Orleans Instrumental No.1’ with imposing walls of sound, while the warm piano balladry of ‘The Last Man On Earth’ builds to a brief but gorgeous vintage interlude which sound like it’s plucked from Pet Sounds or on loan from ELO. Not every style feels at home however, as the record stumbles slightly in its heavier moments. With so much cinematic scope on display, straightforward fuzzy rocker ‘Smile’ and the punk Arcade Fire of ‘Play The Greatest Hits’ feel half-baked and out of place by comparison. The odd flow and rhyming pattern of the former in particular somehow just rubs me up the wrong way entirely.
While Blue Weekend doesn’t quite dethrone their debut, it’s enough to smooth over any doubts I had and put Wolf Alice back in contention as the best British band around right now. But while My Love Is Cool plays like a greatest hits record, sometimes that’s not what you’re after. Sometimes you just want to plug in to an album, give it your full attention, and let it whisk you away on a journey. In that regard Blue Weekend is their finest yet, and you’ll struggle to find a more compelling album experience this year.