During the summer I wrote about the state of British band music and its stagnation from the heights of the 90s and 00s (can you tell I’m nostalgic?) With the Americanisation of popular music and the lack of independent labels, British band music has little to offer in the way of new ground-breaking sound.
What it does offer, however, is Wolf Alice: the alternative four-piece from London consisting of singer Ellie Rowsell, guitarist Joff Oddie, bassist Theo Ellis and drummer Joel Amey. Following the critical success of their debut album My Love is Cool, I was ecstatic to hear the news of their second album dropping so soon.
The singles that preluded this second album’s release were a promising mix of angry punk, soft dream pop and indie funk. While they were lacking the definitive Wolf Alice-esque sound –the magnitude of “Moaning Lisa Smile”, “Giant Peach” and “Silk” – I was captivated by their grungy force. I became optimistic that they could surpass the achievements of their first album.
I was rather disappointed upon Visions of a Life’s release. Much of what had impressed me initially about the band seemed to be absent. It is undoubted that the album is full of some good songs, and it is not that I think the hint of experimentation with their sound is a gamble that has not paid off; this album simply does not fulfil the expectations carried by “the best current UK band” label carries with it. Far from surpassing their debut My Love is Cool in creative output, it seems that this album is something of a step backwards. An almost play-it-safe attempt to follow up on the heights that their debut album reached by appealing to several genres, it aspires for too much.
The singles are certainly catchy – especially “Delete the Kisses” and “Beautifully Unconventional”, which serve as strongpoints of the album. “Space & Time”, with its incisive, head-banging riffs, superb drumming and powerful vocal performance, also stands out as more of what I would have lived up to expectations. It’s a song that you tap your foot along to, belting out the chorus, “I hope my body gets better / do I mean my body or my mind?” And in the bridge, “I don’t want to come undone / I am set to self-destruct”, we hear echoes of “Silk” from their previous album, “got to stay cool you hot, hot head / slowly I could die”. In all it stands out from an otherwise monotonous medley of slow-paced, unenthusiastic songs without lasting substance. “Sadboy”, “St Purple & Green” and “Sky Musing” are unfortunately the chief culprits in their blandness. At least the namesake of the album has some nice psychedelic moments which come through the powerful wall of guitar sound often pulsating on the album.
The album’s overwhelmingly positive critical reaction has come as somewhat of a surprise to me. Dubbed as “bold, brave and magnificent” by NME and “a rare success story in this era of British guitar music” by The Guardian, it has managed a score of 82 on Metacritic, giving it “universal acclaim”.
I would be hard pushed to stay that I think it didn’t deserve praise, but I feel that Geoff Nelson of Consequence of Sound’s estimation (“both a lot and not enough”) provides a much fairer portrayal of what this album has amounted to. Apart from suggesting that I am overzealous in my cynicism (a contention that is well aware to me) I feel that the stand-out nature of praise given to Visions of a Life says something more about UK music in general than Wolf Alice.
A quick look at the new album releases for 2017 reveals a none too surprising trend. The majority of British artists releasing music have been around for donkeys. The Killers, The Cribs, Kasabian, Liam Gallagher… these artists have all had their day and it is about time that some new British talent came to the fore.
In the end, Visions of a Life is a decent album, but it is only made standout by the fact that the majority of current band music is largely uninspiring. Nevertheless Wolf Alice remain the best that Britain has to offer in terms of a fresh and innovative alternative to band music.