It’s now over ten years since the release of The Wombats’ debut album. That’s ten years since tracks like ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division’, ‘Moving to New York’ and ‘Kill the Director’, sparked the first of countless gasps and shrieks of nostalgia-bleached recognition from teenagers in club nights across the country. Yes. Ten whole years.
But for all their instant indie recognition garnered in the heady days of the mid-noughties, and as easy as it would have been for them to check out and cash in, to their credit, The Wombats didn’t. Their next two albums, …This Modern Glitch and Glitterbug, were developments and explorations of their sound, and, as such, The Wombats have, at various points over the last decade, seemingly re-emerged from the studio as several quite distinct bands.
Following …Love, Loss & Desperation’s sonic optimism and comparative innocence, there was the dry, tongue-in-cheek wit of …This Modern Glitch, which first showcased Murph, Tord and Dan’s impressive proficiency in the electronic. Then there was Glitterbug; a nigh-on concept album, for the recording of which the band headed to the USA, and whose pop influences were even more pronounced.
If anything, latest offering Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life is more of a return to their roots than the intervening records, but it’s not a relapse by any means. Lead single ‘Lemon to a Knife Fight’ bursts onto the scene with the sort of harmonic, melodic guitar hook that will be instantly recognisable to fans, before introducing the drums and bass in a move that sounds like an aeronautical sonic boom. Likewise, the double-time percussion section on ‘Ice Cream’ starts out not too dissimilar to 2007’s ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division’, before the bassline swan-dives and creates a thicker texture, punctuated by a staccato, stabbing guitar.
It’s a sonically richer album. Whereas the first Wombats album was characterised by the intricacy and complementation of its composite parts, there’s a harmony and a togetherness for the majority of this effort – created by thicker basslines and more unified guitar – which augments the new tone of the record nicely.
That new tone is a darker one. From the opening notes, the nuanced, muted guitar and spectral, half-man-half-machine moans on ‘Cheetah Tongue’ paint a picture of, not dread or foreboding, but of something close. The constant tumbling of the bassline and the guitars falling like meteorites during the chorus help as well. ‘Turn’ is the standout example of this darker atmosphere. Guitar and bassline harmonies are quickly replaced by a verse with a bassline so low it sounds like it could be an engine spinning down, while a chorus filled with syncopated drum fills and infectious vocal frills all amounts to the addition of a relentless synth thrum so futuristic it could have been lifted from a sci-fi score, in a finale that is expertly worked.
Elsewhere, while it’s not all doom and gloom (the immediately following ‘Black Flamingo’ lifts the mood a bit), even the tracks with the most overtly “pop” sympathies have been augmented by the record’s overall togetherness, and the band’s moodier sensibilities; the aforementioned ‘Black Flamingo’ boasts an ethereal breakdown which showcases some welcome restraint. Meanwhile, the guitar hook of ‘White Eyes’ is elevated by a garage-esque drum beat and some soulful sampling, and the guitar lick on ‘Dip You In Honey’ is reminiscent of the avant-garde stylings of The Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’.
Lyrically, the record features the tales of love, heartbreak and inner-conflict that The Wombats have made their wheelhouse over the years. Murph is, as always, a conflicted character, torn between being “made out of sunshine” and the less euphoric realisation that “I don’t know why I like you but I do”. Of course, a Wombats song will always know how to turn a phrase, and even, occasionally, cause a chuckle (“you’re the coldest form of warm”, “eat my mind like a cake”), but there isn’t too much of note here other than the expected.
That’s easy to forgive, however, when it’s all wrapped up in a more engaging package than we’ve seen for some time. The Wombats are still facing the same issues, but with the darker tone, they seem to be taking it all a bit more seriously this time around. It seems like they’ve come home from their American road-trip, and they’ve grown up in the interim, which is very nice to hear indeed.
Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life is available to purchase now via Kobalt Recordings.
Words by Ben Kitto