Wolf Alice suffered from a very rare form of second album syndrome… They won the Mercury Prize with 2017’s Visions of a Life. That success understandably heightened expectations around the band, but rather than follow their 187 date tour with an immediate return to writing, the band took some time apart before reuniting to work on new ideas.
That self-awareness and clarity of thought carries through on their third album, Blue Weekend, and is perhaps its defining ingredient. Everything is deliberate and perfectly balanced, executed with authority befitting a band of their quality. A less confident or experienced outfit might have succumbed to the pressure of success and rushed their next release to maintain momentum. Not Wolf Alice.
The band hasn’t jettisoned the elements which made their previous albums great though. They’ve refined them. The breadth of sound is still there; Wolf Alice transitions smoothly from indie rock to synth-pop to folk and again via a sweaty punk gig.
Across Blue Weekend, Ellie Rowsell’s vocals range from beautifully layered harmonies dripping with reverb to stripped bare, immediate and intense. The Beach opens the album with an almost hypnotic drum and guitar beat, then opens out into a glorious choral wall of sound; later on, the more delicate Safe From Heartbreak the layers add depth to the otherwise sparse arrangement. No Hard Feelings lacks nothing despite having only bass and vocals.
On Delicious Things, Rowsell almost whispers her verses over a grooving bass, asking whether she fits into a showbiz lifestyle and offering little glimpses into relationships she hasn’t previously written about. Lipstick on the Glass covers similar ground but with brittle vocals setting the mood alongside the cutting imagery of the song’s title.
On Smile, Rowsell is defiant. Driven by Theo Ellis’s fuzzy bass, the vocal reverb and layers are gone, and she might as well be an inch from your ear saying, “I am what I am, and I’m good at it, And you don’t like me well that isn’t fucking relevant,” before the song crescendos. The varying treatment of vocals is a device the band has used previously, but doubling down on it here is like they’ve not only discovered a secret weapon but immediately mastered its use.
Having already established on the 2015 album My Love Is Cool, and 2017’s Visions of a Life that they won’t be bound by genre, the most exciting thing about Wolf Alice is having no idea what the next song might sound like. For some bands, that means chaos, but Blue Weekend is a seamless listen. It ebbs and flows between long and short songs; frantic and calm, guitar-driven and synth-based. The feedback fades on the scuzzy garage punk of Play the Greatest Hits into Feeling Myself’s sultry electric piano without skipping a beat.
How Can I Make It OK? leans more heavily on lush 80s style synth before Ellis and guitarist Joff Oddie cut through with punchier, direct lines. Similarly, The Last Man On Earth begins with mournful piano and Rowsell’s now distinctive vocal before the rest of the band kicks in. The more complex and brave arrangements are sure signs of a band in fine form. Equally, nothing overstays its welcome, and fleeting moments of genius are allowed to be just that. It’s deliberate, perfectly balanced and executed with authority.
There isn’t a weak moment on Blue Weekend, it’s an excellent listen, and for Wolf Alice fans, it’ll be well worth the four-year wait. It will serve as an introduction sure to open a rabbit hole into the band’s previous output for those not yet converted.
Wolf Alice now have to be considered among the UK’s best current bands, and Blue Weekend is an addition to their catalogue that should ensure they secure top billing when festivals return.