Immersed in a dreamy haze of memory and introspection, Wolf Alice deliver a thought-provoking third album.
Four years after the release of their Mercury Prize-winning album Visions of a Life, London-based band Wolf Alice return with another LP, brimming with their signature blend of fuzzy shoegaze and extravagant alt-rock. Blue Weekend sees the band aim for a grander, more lavish sound than they have produced thus far, resulting in a record that is, at times, spectacular and, at times, overwhelming.
The album opens on a gentle note, as the steady, thrumming guitar of ‘The Beach’ softly washes in, and singer Ellie Rowsell describes to us, in hushed, tender vocals, a gradually fading friendship. The music slowly builds, layer upon layer, introducing a cool, ethereal choir and deep, humming synths, before crashing forth in a tidal wave of sound. This progression from humble opening to a grandiose climax serves as a template for most of the album’s 11 tracks, the pattern growing fairly predictable by the halfway mark.
However, Blue Weekend is by no means formulaic, infusing a variety of musical styles into its rich, muggy soundscape. One of its strongest assets is second track ‘Delicious Things’, a shimmering, soulful jam, with a warming, old-fashioned sway to it. It’s hard not to be moved by Rowsell’s narrative about feeling lost and homesick in the wild party atmosphere of LA, especially as the track closes out with notes of delicate, poignant piano echoing her protagonist’s loneliness and naïveté.
‘Delicious Things’ flows seamlessly into ‘Lipstick on the Glass’, probably the catchiest cut on the record, with Joff Oddie’s crisp, glittering guitar providing a hypnotic backdrop, reminiscent of Radiohead’s In Rainbows. Continuing this run of impressive tracks, ‘Smile’ bursts forth with a raucous anger, breaking the glossy sheen that veiled the first three songs. On this track, Rowsell rails against society’s dismissal and policing of women’s emotions, demanding ‘don’t call me mad, there’s a difference, I am angry,’ and crooning sweetly in the mockingly angelic chorus, ‘ah ah ah ah sun and the shine, ah ah ah ah smile’.
The lyrics are carefully considered throughout the album, both philosophical and quietly poetic. ‘Safe from Heartbreak (if you never fall in love)’ is sung from two opposing points of view, where Rowsell’s comforting verses find assurance in deciding to avoid love to escape heartbreak, but are interrupted by a celestial choir tempting her to ‘look beyond your wall, bend your own rules’. The song is refreshingly simple, with a whimsical, pastoral warmth that brings to mind Simon and Garfunkel.
It’s after the 80s-flecked effervescence of ‘How Can I Make It Okay?’ that the album starts to stumble a little. Rowsell’s child-like yelling on ‘Play the Greatest Hits’ is instantly grating, as it was on 2017’s noisy punk number, ‘Yuk Foo’. ‘Feeling Myself’ begins promisingly with lyrics exploring women’s sexuality and autonomy, only to be engulfed in a wash of synths and vocals that drowns out all the song’s individuality. While ‘The Last Man on Earth’ is a welcome piano ballad, with a gorgeous melody, it too culminates in the obligatory epic crescendo, which has by now lost a fair bit of impact.
At the record’s conclusion however, the band finally seems to find peace. ‘No Hard Feelings’ is true to its name, remaining soft and tranquil throughout, and ‘The Beach II’ closes out the album with a feeling of total serenity. The gushing instrumentation mimics the hushed ebb and flow of the ocean, as Rowsell returns to the dwindling friendship of the opening track, this time revisiting happy memories of golden days by the sea: ‘The tide comes in, as it must go out, / consistent like the laughter / of the girls on the beach, / my girls on the beach, / happy ever after.’
Like the ocean itself, Blue Weekend is immense, tumultuous and occasionally overpowering, but also, in quieter times, sparklingly beautiful. And for the entrancing splendour of its finest moments, it’s well worth taking the rough with the smooth.
Listen to Blue Weekend: