I was somewhat surprised that I enjoyed the August Rough Trade Album of the Month as much as I have.
Wild Beasts have cropped up on my horizon from time to time. They seem to regularly appear on those CDs that get attached to the front of Uncut and Mojo magazine. When I’ve listened to them, they’ve always been very tasteful, quite polite and if I’m being honest, not too memorable. Some low key keyboard, a few guitar embellishments and a mid paced rhythm track – frankly it has always sounded like it could be any one of a number of middling bands to my ears. The potential differentiator was the vocals of Hayden Thorpe. A keening falsetto, he seemed to be capable of expressing the emotional yearning that seems to be the raison d’être of many of today’s bands. As a package though, it didn’t grab me.
“Boy King”, their fifth LP, adds more to the mix – sex. The album has a filthy strut to it, in spades. Maybe it is the eighties echoing keyboards and rhythms that are so attractive to my 49 year old self but this is far from much of the anaemic offerings that get served up by so much of the white British indie scene. It is coming from a similar place to John Grant’s recent LP’s, including last year’s “Grey Hair Black Tickles”, which I wrote about here. Tom Fleming, the band’s second front man said a couple of years ago:
“Machismo is basically a drag act. There’s a gross swagger that usually accompanies masculinity and that’s something that’s learned and unnatural.”
He may be correct in his view but it is the very swagger, artificial as it may be, which inhabits “Boy King” and raises it above what I’ve heard previously from the band. It has become a bit of a family favourite too, and it down to that rhythmic snap. Whenever it comes on over the home hifi system, bodies twitch and feet tap. Outside of the field of dance, R’n’B or hip hop, I’ve found little to generate that sense of movement. Christina and the Queen’s “Tilted” is the closest in our household in recent months.
Go back twenty or thirty years and those bands who had been inspired by Bowie or Roxy would regularly draw on a rhythmic platform that got those hips going. Perversely it seems that the ease which bands can co-opt funkiness via loops and samples has actually reduced the dance floor friendliness of the music. It is almost as if they’ve gone “well we’ve got the funky quota sorted. Let’s layer on some guitars and keyboards and then write about a sense of not quite fitting in and we’re done”. It’s a bit lazy, if you ask me (I know you didn’t, by the way).
The key single from the LP captures its essence perfectly. The opening track “Big Cat” is building on the chorus line, with a huge sense of drama. This is feline, predatory stuff and is representative of the rest of the album.
I’ve really enjoyed listening to the album and it is shaping up to be one of my favourites of the year. It is just under 40 minutes long and is perfectly economic. The Rough Trade version comes with a bonus 7″, a rather lovely instrumental CD that shows an even more danceable side and a mix of outtakes. It is quite the package.
It’s hooked me. I’ve even booked tickets to see them at the Roundhouse in October. I’ve gone back and listened to the earlier material and it still isn’t doing it for me.
“Boy King” is superb though.