Wild Beasts: Boy King review – wilder and beastlier

(Domino)
The Cumbria-via-Leeds foursome swap arty erudition for rock swagger on a bigger, bolder fifth album

Around the time of their first album, 2008’s Limbo, Panto, Wild Beasts were neither wild nor beasts. Taking their name from fauvism, the early 20th-century art movement, this operatic indie foursome were a repository of erudite, swooping art rock. The red-blooded falsetto of Hayden Thorpe used to crack ecstatically, so deeply felt were their songs. The rest of the band shirked the obvious, energetically.

It’s hard for complexity to survive in the brutal dystopia that is modern music commerce. Five albums in – solidly good ones, never truly earth-moving ones – you get a sense that this Cumbria-via-Leeds band have decided to throw erudition to the wind and finally embrace knuckle-dragging rock piggery. This, in exchange for some of the kudos, cheddar and ancillary benefits that their labelmates Arctic Monkeys have long enjoyed.

So Boy King is actually all about being wild – a song called Big Cat opens the record – and sex, hyper-masculinity (Adonis and Colossus are referenced) and getting one’s “bang”. Basslines swagger, and the prettiness that lit up the band’s first three albums (one of them Mercury-nominated) has become a guttering, neon strip, one that deepens the electronic flirtation Wild Beasts began on their last album, Present Tense.

To this end, producer John Congleton (St Vincent, John Grant) mans the board, running Wild Beasts’ guitars through alchemising effects. This approach hits its apex on He the Colossus, when Thorpe sings “Everything just dies in these hands”, and Tom Fleming’s guitar answers him beautifully, all distorted.

Watch Wild Beast perform Get My Bang.

Congleton also brings a widescreen, pared-back, Texan feel to the band’s previously twitchy default mode. On songs like Get My Bang, you can’t help but think of Arctic Monkeys. It’s not actually about sex, but about the orgy of consumerism that western society indulges in, where tearing cut-price TVs out of other people’s hands on Black Friday is the only thrill left. “We’re going darker ages/ I wanna feel outrageous,” pout the backing vocals. Big Cat, meanwhile, sounds like a malevolently slinky Muse song, keen to drive the chorus into your skull. The closing guitar line is downright poetic in its succinctness.

Is this Wild Beasts’ masterpiece, then, where they finally live up to an over-literal reading of their name? Not quite. Too many songs sound like generic electronic rock. But a masterful mid-album run – the intriguing, three-legged sulk of 2BU into He the Colossus into the pitch-shifted bomp’n’thwack of Ponytail – is as arresting and fresh as they wanted the rest of this album to be.

Contributor

Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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