ALBUM REVIEW: Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend

Wolf Alice’s Blue Weekend isa tightly packed and exquisitely produced album which takes the best of their previous works while managing to create its own identity. The instrumental arrangements are refined and contained, while Ellie Rowsell’s vocals and lyricism are at an all-time high.

The album opens with ‘The Beach’, a beautiful arrangement of acoustic and percussive elements which gradually builds to a crescendo, and first showcases Rowsell’s precise, rhythmic vocalisations seen throughout the album. It’s an effective way to open the album and suggests a dynamism of both Wolf Alice’s sound and of the thematic ‘coming ashore’ which underpins the album’s lyrics of belonging and identity.

‘Delicious Things’continues these themes, dealing with the archetypal Californian journey, in the somewhat ironic lyric ‘Would you believe I’m in Los Angeles?’ Wide-open spaces are conjured here, with sweeping orchestration, soaring, spacey guitar notes, and choral harmonies. As a result, the song feels full and controlled, and though being the longest song on the album, is just the right length.

‘Lipstick On The Glass’ is again a full and controlled song, opening with acoustic guitar and Rowsell’s ethereal vocals, before moving into a multi-instrumental chorus, with particularly strong, subtle percussion by Joel Amey; and impressive acoustic arrangements by Joff Oddie.

‘Smile’ is a well-written powerhouse of a song, and while it could be seen as a simple radio-hit, it still complements the lighter tracks on the album. Rowsell’s vocal rhythms are subtle and varied, and follow the instrumental tightly, while her lyrics speak of being yourself, no matter what others think.

‘Safe from Heartbreak (if you never fall in love)’provides a respite from ‘Smile’s’ noise, being a melancholy love-song with a steady lilt. Perhaps the song writing is weaker here than on other parts of the album, since its theme is not so subtle, but Rowsell’s vocals and the male backing harmonies don’t disappoint.

‘How Can I Make It OK’is a powerful song with an attractive vocal hook, and effective canon harmonies. While at parts the instrumentation can blend with each other, overall, it’s a solid arrangement, with Theo Ellis’ bass coming in strong, especially post-chorus, and Amey’s synth-production providing a sturdy opening and backdrop.

Now, ‘Play The Greatest Hits’ is the weakest song on the album, as while a strong Yuk Foo, it comes across as somewhat contrived and out-of-place, and the flow of the album would be stronger without it. Despite this, the haunting guitar which emerges post-chorus is a highlight of the sonic atmosphere explored in Blue Weekend. The song acts to quicken the pace with its neighbouring slower songs, but I still wish something else had been considered here.

‘Feeling Myself’is a lifting, sensual song which looks outwards and inwards in equal measure, reducing itself post-chorus to a more relaxed rhythm. The chorus is evocative with a full-bodied orchestration that strengthens the lyrics about self-love and sexuality.

Lead single ‘The Last Man On Earth’has been a hit since its release and remains so here, straddling the line between the power of ‘Feeling Myself’and the slow acoustics of ‘No Hard Feelings’. The lyrics are poignant and reflective, being inspired by Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, and the strings perfectly suited.

As a penultimate song, ‘No Hard Feelings’ manages to pave the way for the majestic soundscape of ‘The Beach II’,without taking too much attention for itself. In doing so, it does seem like a filler song, and doesn’t progress sonically like other songs on the album, but it’s an easy listen, with great vocals and instrumentation as always.

‘The Beach II’ brings us out from the shore, rather than in, sweeping us beyond the land and out into the endlessness of the ocean. The reverb vocals suggest an echoing enclosure, while the instrumentation and lyrics sing of a melancholy end, since ‘the tide comes in, as it must go out’.

Overall, Blue Weekend is a strong album for Wolf Alice. It’s their best written, arranged, and produced album yet, and while a couple of the songs could be considered filler, they seem to be slow burners. This is the first Wolf Alice album where the group have forged a consistent identity, and we can only hope that they will continue to do so.

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James Ward

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May 2022
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