Wolf Alice - Blue Weekend
I first saw Wolf Alice at a gig on Clapham Common in 2015 – they were low down the bill at a day that included Noel Gallagher, Echo & The Bunnymen, Modest Mouse, The Hives, Ryan Adams - they were good, the most indie thing there by some way. I saw them again a week or so later at Latitude in a tent early afternoon. They were great, but nothing THAT special.
We next saw them at Ally Pally in 2017 – somehow they were huge, but to me still resolutely indie. There were green shoots growing of their ambition and genre hopping tendencies, but this was still a resolutely indie band.
Yes, both their first two albums were more than just bog-standard indie, but it all felt fairly run of the mill to me – don’t get me wrong, they were good, but I thought the plaudits given to them were a little OTT.
Blue Weekend, however, is the real deal – it’s a massive leap forward. You can hear their indie roots, but this is something quite different.
Quoting Macbeth is a brave way to start an album, but opener The Beach does just that – “When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, in rain? Still sink our drinks like every weekend”. It swells to an enormous crescendo, with multi-layered vocals, pounding drums – it’s a big start to a big album.
Delicious Things is a gentle sway, describing singer Ellie Rowsell’s fears and wide-eyed, almost out of body experiences while so far from home in LA - “I'm socially anxious and a long way from home, I've only just learnt my margarita from mojito”. More than anything, it’s the sense of try everything as she continues this unlikely adventure she finds herself the star of “A girl like me, would you believe I'm in Los Angeles?”.
On Lipstick on the Glass, she lets her inner Kate Bush/Liz Fraser loose as she recalls a failing relationship, backed by a shimmering backing track that would fit perfectly on PJ Harvey's Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. It’s brilliant. Its sibling track is No Hard Feelings – more stripped down and acoustic, but again considering the impact of the end of a relationship, listening to Amy Winehouse – “There'll be no bad blood, losing your love has been hard enough”.
The indie roots are still there – both Smile and Play The Greatest Hits are classic indie rockers, the former all fuzz guitars and semi-rapped vocals, the latter a shouty stomping, almost Pixies meets Shampoo – it’s a big nod to the mosh pit who will love this. Feeling Myself starts as a deceptively trippy spacious track, but the heavy indie guitars of old kick in, alongside some big keys.
Safe From Heartbreak (if you never fall in love) reminds me of Aussie country stars All My Exes Live In Texas – all gentle folk, heartbreak, and harmonies.
The standout is the piano-led, Beatlesy epic The Last Man On Earth: “Every book you take that you dust off from the shelf/Has lines between lines between lines that you read about yourself”. It nails the arrogance of human beings.
Closing the album is The Beach II – neatly bookending the album, with Ellie finding herself with her mates, somewhere calm and relaxed – “Of the girls on the beach, my girls on the beach, happy ever after”, as the twanging guitars, hand claps and swirling Pink Floyd keys drift to a close.
This is a supremely confident, assured, HUGE album, but also subtle, gentle. It’s undeniably a stone-cold classic. Wow.