Wolf Alice could have ended up just like any other great-white-hope of the English press after the release of My Love is Cool in 2015: a couple of miraculous breakthrough singles, followed by a well-received debut and then years of mediocrity with the odd catchy single. Except this was never going to happen to Wolf Alice. The Mic’s incoming Releases Editor Elliot Fox reviews the long-awaited and suitably remarkable third record, Blue Weekend.
After their 2018 tour supporting Mercury Prize-winning album Visions of a Life, Wolf Alice retreated to an AirBnB in Somerset for a while to decide exactly where they should take their sound next. Lead singer Ellie Rowsell was surprised to find that having disregarded many song ideas in the past, she actually already had the beginnings of many potential songs. These tracks and others developed over 2 years of hard work and Covid-safe recording sessions to become their 3rd album, Blue Weekend. It is by far the most ambitious album Wolf Alice have ever produced, and their ideas and performances hold more than enough charisma to pull it off.
Lead singer Ellie Rowsell is continuing in the vein of her more love and relationship-oriented lyricism from Visions of a Life, but with more of a “blue”, melancholy feel. In a recent interview she stated that she hoped the songs from this album “might make people feel listened to if they are going through something”, and this sentiment really shows in the pessimistic, bitter Safe From Heartbreak (if you never fall in love), and in No Hard Feelings, a stripped-back single which captures the cold nature of a “good” break-up beautifully.
‘If one thing is clear from Wolf Alice’s third outing it’s that they’ve developed a real talent for creating memorable moments.’
Furthermore, Ellie ventures into some interesting subject material on this record, the most exciting example of this being Feeling Myself. This atmospheric, synth-heavy track acts as both an entertaining diss-track of some player who ironically isn’t so great in the bedroom and a fearless statement about female self-love. A song like Feeling Myself is challenging to pull off, but Ellie’s performance is bold enough, and the sound of the track huge enough to prevent it from feeling cringe-y. Unfortunately though, not all of the tracks on the record share this lyrical subtlety and depth. How can I make it ok, for example, is generic to the point of being almost meaningless, and you can’t help but feel that a chorus like “Ah, sun and the shine, ah, smile” from grunge banger Smile could have been replaced with something more purposeful.
Despite the title of Blue Weekend, it’s clear that there’s a lot more than drunk nights out and teenage angst emotionally embedded in this project. For a large amount of the record, the band takes on a more grandiose sound than on any previous Wolf Alice release, with layered, cinematic instrumentation and dense production. It’s like the nostalgic young love of Dazed and Confused, but presented with all the magnificent drama of Return of the King. The first two tracks here are standout examples of this. The beach works as a sort of teaser trailer for the album, starting with Joel Amey’s lonely, sloppy-sounding kick drum and working up to stunning layered harmonies and pounding bass and guitar which all drop out just before you’ve had enough. It’s short, but still one of the strongest cuts on the album. Delicious things is a spacious, trippy story of feeling out of place in the luxury and extravagance of LA and fame. The verses here are quiet and intimate, but the chorus sees Ellie’s many vocal layers rise and converge to create an angelic, choir-like crescendo.
These ventures in intense, almost orchestral instrumentation don’t come as a surprise after the first single to promote the album, The Last Man on Earth, which was released in February. It’s certainly new ground for Wolf Alice; a slow-building piano ballad with a massive, theatrical climax to end. Some sections of the song seem out of place, but any doubts of the track were dispelled with a stunning, emphatic performance by the band on Jools Holland’s late show in March. In the middle section of the album building up to this point, Wolf Alice attempt to maintain their signature sound, whilst dipping their toes in some unexplored genres and sounds for the band, such as folk, garage, and pop. Unfortunately, none of these risks really pay off convincingly. An example of this is Play the Greatest Hits, an angry garage-style jam with all the foundations of a heavy punk banger. In practice though, the track lacks character beyond its fast pace and a Killers-esque middle 8, and often feels like a barrage of meaningless, aggressive noise.
If one thing is clear from Wolf Alice’s third outing it’s that they’ve developed a real talent for creating memorable moments. The entrance of bass and drums in Lipstick on the Glass is an instant fix of ear elation; jaw-dropping on first listen. Closing track The Beach II hits that nostalgic sweet spot that so easily pulls up memories of good times and old friends. The end of Feeling Myself engulfs you with sound; Ellie singing her soul out over a tidal-wave of sizzling synths and bass. The list goes on. Where it began with catchy riffs and Theo Ellis’s filthy, distorted basslines, the band have now seamlessly developed their appeal into intense waves of harmony and emotion. Wolf Alice have executed their vision of thespian sound and nuanced song-writing emphatically, and for that reason, Blue Weekend is a tremendous achievement.
Written by: Elliot Fox
Edited by: Alex Duke