If you’re pondering the continuing existence of late-noughties punky funsters the Wombats and wondering if there hasn’t been some sort of massive cosmic mix-up, an epic glitch in the matrix, you are probably not alone. Unassumingly named after a short, fat marsupial and best known for an annoying song about ironic indie disco dancing to Joy Division, surely nobody can be more surprised than this Liverpudlian three-piece that their career not only survives but thrives, heading towards Wembley Arena on a major tour.
Seeded towards the end of the last decade among a minor wave of chart-bothering milksop guitar-pop bands such as Scouting for Girls and Plain White T’s, for whom shaggy hair, skinny jeans, T-shirts and trainers were uniform (and on tonight’s evidence, still are), longevity never looked likely. In this guitar-averse age of pop and mumble rap they should be remembered as a kind of Blink-and-you-missed-them 182. But their songs are shrilly shrieked throughout by an IDs-out-at-the-bar young audience who, unless the Wombats’ debut was big among the under-10s back in 2007, suggests their popularity continues to respawn.
If you thought people had long since tired of three-chord shouty pogoing, lyrics about Bridget Jones and songs kookily dedicated to pet dogs, you’d be wrong. Even one of those traditional signifiers that a band has reached a certain threshold of established respectability – as the show is paused for a moment and a guy called Callum is given a pre-requested opportunity to propose to his girlfriend ahead of the couple’s favourite song – descends into sniggering farce as Callum proves elusive. “He’s back-doored it,” reckons drummer Dan Haggis. Either that or he has taken the most ill-timed toilet trip of his life.
When the Wombats are good – on the bittersweet Pink Lemonade for instance, in which singer Matthew Murphy fizzes about his inadequacies and whether or not his girlfriend is cheating on him with a cooler guy – they’re really not bad. When they’re bad – Techno Fan is a toe-curling pretend electro song essentially about how Murphy isn’t really one for techno music – they’re really very bad.
But for the most part – be it Bee-Sting, a kind stodgy take on Beck’s Up All Night, or a stormy-swelling Foals-lite new song usefully titled I Don’t Know Why I Like You But I Do – they are simply OK, the quintessence of the three-star middling indie band. Their off-the-shelf melodicism, nimble rhythms and muddling lyrics – “I brought a lemon to a knife fight” gabs Murphy during one recent single, in a mixed metaphor worthy of Matt Goss – gets songs where they need to go. Their idea of progressivism is forays into self-amused synth-pop like the ravey-blaring Give Me a Try and Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves).
But as relentlessly upbeat and energetic exercises in not taking music too seriously come, it would be churlish to begrudge the Wombats their unlikely durability or to sneer at the cheerfully uncomplicated relationship their fans share with their songs. During the kids-party-on-poppers apogee of Let’s Dance to Joy Division, they troll po-faced zealots of moody post-punk as giant coloured balloons bounce over the audience’s heads, four people dressed as actual wombats invade the stage and everyone goes bananas to a chant of: “Yeah, we’re so happy, we’re so happy!”
At O2 Academy, Glasgow, on 25 January, and First Direct Arena, Leeds, on 26 January. Then touring.