Wild Beasts ‘Smother’ – Review

21 Jun

Wild Beasts once lived up to their name by being a pretty wild and unpredictable group; their blend of soaring falsettos, tribal rhythms and saucy lyrics won them great acclaim, particularly with 2009’s breakthrough ‘Two Dancers’. But these beasts have been tamed by time, and their third record ‘Smother’ is notable for being a pretty subdued and laid-back affair, in contrast to their earlier work. It opens with ‘Lion’s Share’ a song that feels like it’s going to explode into their usual kind of musical free for all, but never does. They are equally restrained throughout which often works to their advantage but occasionally doesn’t. ‘Smother’ is nearly as good as ‘Two Dancers’ (better in a couple of respects) but it’s not nearly as entertaining.

The interplay between singers Tom Flemming and Hayden Thorpe has been central to the band’s appeal, and that dynamic is even more present on ‘Smother’ than it was on ‘Two Dancers’. Here Wild Beasts make a serious claim to having, not just one, but two of the best singers in contemporary Indie. Both seem capable of reaching higher and lower notes than anyone else out there, and to their credit they never use their talents in a gimmicky or showy off way. For the most part their singing (like the musical arrangements) is understated and intelligently deployed. On ‘Plaything’ Thorpe tells us ‘I know I’m not any kind of heart-throb/but at the same time I’m bot any sort of sloth’. The album is filled with this kind of witty lyricism but it’s the way Thorpe’s voice plays with the words that truly makes the lyrics come to life.

One of the best things about Wild Beasts is their sense of humour. On the surface this is a very serious album, but there is humour in the lyrics even if it’s just a bit of wordplay, a clever turn of phrase or even a knowing nudge and wink (‘I would lie anywhere with you, any old bed of nails will do’). They manage the rare trick (see also Arctic Monkeys and Morrissey) of being both laugh out loud funny and thought provokingly deep in the same song. But not even their sense of humour can save them when the tune is as ponderous and dry as ‘Burning’, a song apparently told from the perspective of a man who has been saved, but sounds more like he has been told to spend an eternity in hell with the cast of The Only Way Is Essex.

Over the course of an entire album ‘Smother’s’ slightly predictable formula becomes quite tiresome. Songs like ‘Deeper’ and ‘Loop The Loop’ would benefit from being a bit, well, wilder (where did all their nervous energy go?). Whilst Wild Beasts have established a relaxing and consistent mood it’s a little too consistent and relaxed for my liking. Easily the least laid back (and therefore most interesting) element of the group is the rhythm section who, whilst often overlooked, continue to impress with their funky yet tightly wound rhythms (as funky as a drummer born and raised in the Lake District is capable of at least) and groovy basslines.

‘Smother’ is a good album, I’m just not sure that it’s equal to the sum of its parts. Despite having adventurous multi-instrumentalists, two amazing singers and lyricists plus a brilliant rhythm section, Wild Beasts have made an album that is a little too predictable and a little too yawn inducing. In the past Wild Beasts were at their best when they were uncontrollable, strange and mischievous – and the album’s at its best when they continue to be so. But whilst I don’t believe they are always playing to their strengths, ‘Smother’ is still a largely accomplished record that does plenty to prove why Wild Beasts are considered one of the best young bands in Britain.

7/10

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