With ‘Blue Weekend’, Wolf Alice Have Made 2021’s Best Album So Far
There's a reason everyone is hyping up Wolf Alice's latest - it's a straight-up masterpiece.
Three years ago Wolf Alice stepped on stage in Sydney’s Metro Theatre, champagne bottles in hand and grins plastered across their faces. They might not have known it quite at that point, or perhaps they were just beginning to realise, but that night was the start of a year-long victory lap.
You couldn’t tell the UK band had barely slept after winning the Mercury Prize in London one night earlier as they tore through raging tracks like ‘Yuk Foo’ or when a disco ball shone while lead singer Ellie Rowsell serenaded the crowd during ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’. The show was not only proof that the band was completely deserving of the prestigious award, but they were also one of the best live acts you could see in the world.
Four years on from their Mercury Prize-winning album Visions Of A Life, the British group are back, returning with a mature and polished sound — that remains undefinable by genre, yet distinctly them.
“Things are ramping up. It feels like we’re back to work, like we’re a real band again,” Wolf Alice guitarist Joff Oddie tells me as we settle into discussing the band’s new album Blue Weekend and finally being able to play live again. “I’m itching for it… I would love nothing more than to come to Australia and get loose.”
While an Australian tour might still be far off for Wolf Alice, their long-awaited third album was finally released on Friday, with the accompanying short film set to premiere on June 10. Making that decision to release an album now, when opportunities to perform and tour are still limited, was definitely difficult for the group, admits Oddie.
“Especially with so much of us being a live band, but I think it got to a point where we had to commit,” Oddie says. “If we’re still locked down at the point it’s going to come out, people are gonna need it so let’s just do it. We’ll figure it out along the way.”
“Now I’m Really Feeling Myself…”
Days after its release, Blue Weekend is already being hailed as one of the year’s best albums — NME labelled it a “stone-cold masterpiece”, and . The emotional and twisting record is the result of lead singer Ellie Rowsell’s growth as a songwriter, as well as the band’s 10 years of commitment to their craft and each other. It’s the sound of a band at the absolute height of their powers.
“When we got the demos — Ellie’s raw material — we all said we think these are the best songs she’s ever written,” Oddie says now. “We didn’t want to hide them, we wanted to put the song[writing] front and centre.”
Wolf Alice have refined their sound and created their most captivating and self-assured album to date.
That’s not to say Blue Weekend is subdued in any way; by the end of the opening track ‘The Beach’ Rowsell’s voice soars above thundering drums and guitars that pull you into the vivid world of her confessional songwriting. With the aid of producer Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Florence + The Machine), Wolf Alice have refined their sound and created their most captivating and self-assured album to date.
“The last album was released almost four years ago and four years changes you, especially the four years we’ve had,” Oddie answers when I ask where this change comes from. “We’ve been doing this a while, we’ve become better musicians and artists, we’ve become more proficient in the studio. We’re building on all those kinda things.”
“[With] Visions Of A Life we were being more abstract and playing around with different musical ideas, [using] all of these different techniques.” The guitarist says when explaining how this growth impacted their recording process. Going into the studio this time, the band had one goal: ‘Let’s make sure that every element of the song, every single thing that’s going on is backing the songwriting.'”
Play The Greatest Hits
It would be understandable for the band to feel added pressure going into the writing and recording process for Blue Weekend, especially after winning an award as coveted as the Mercury Prize. But Oddie mostly shrugs off the suggestion and says their main motivator is still themselves.
“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a little bit in the background, but I don’t think it’s healthy to pay attention to that,” he says. “I think the thing that motivates us and puts the pressure on us is ourselves, making sure we’re meeting our goals and making music we’d like to listen to. If we’re doing that then we know we’re heading in the right direction.”
Perhaps for that reason, the album sees the band firmly pushing against the boundaries of their established style and sound more than ever. The new album flirts with elements of jazz on standout track ‘Delicious Things’, folk melodies on ‘Safe From Heartbreak (If You Never Fall In Love)’, as well as punk on what’s sure to be a live favourite ‘Play The Greatest Hits’.
Fans looking for the heavier side of Wolf Alice might feel let down, there are no songs bursting with the same frenzied rage and anger like you felt on VOAL’s ‘Yuk Foo’ and ‘Formidable Cool’. Which is not to say these new songs lack emotion, rather Rowsell’s writing has progressed to a point where she doesn’t need to scream to be heard. When she whispers “Don’t call me mad, there’s a difference, I’m angry. And your choice to call me cute has offended me” on ‘Smile’ — a song inspired by some of the responses to ‘Yuk Foo’ — you feel it.
“I think we’ve got a history of touching a lot of bases. If you don’t like a certain side of Wolf Alice then you don’t have to listen to it,” Oddie says when I ask if they’re worried about how fans will react to this side-step from the heavier, grunge-influenced Visions Of A Life.
“I don’t think there is anything on this record that’s cornier than ‘Freazy’,” he adds with a laugh.
“Keep My Name On Your Lips, Let The Double L Feel Like A Kiss”
With an album showcasing the group at the top of their game, but no way to share it with the world in their element — live — the band had to figure out how to promote the album and connect with their fans without a stage.
“The discussion was ‘if we can’t go on tour, how do we use our budget to keep people engaged?’” Oddie tells me as we talk about the upcoming short film set to accompany Blue Weekend.
The band collaborated with acclaimed director and cinematographer Jordan Hemingway (Gucci, Maison Margiela, Yves Tumor) to create a series of music videos and live performance videos to accompany the album.
“Usually you finish recording an album, you go home and someone is mixing and mastering while you are trying to figure out how to play the record, making music videos, doing interviews all in like a month period. To be honest it’s a headfuck. So getting to spend a longer period of time rehearsing, being able to focus on the visual side of things… It was brilliant, really interesting.” Oddie explains, a wide smile creeping across his face. “We created a narrative, a world. We decided all the visual aspects of the album would come from the shoot of these music videos.”
“We created a narrative, a world.”
Filmed during the UK’s lockdown last November, Oddie looks back on the project fondly. “It was just one of the most joyous experiences to be in a place with loads of other people together, who haven’t been in a place with other people for a really long time,” he says. “It was just fantastic [to] work with incredibly talented and incredibly nice people.”
Oddie remains cool and collected throughout our chat, even with so much uncertainty in the world. “I’m trying to remain calm because we’re so desperate to get out and do it but we’ve had so many disappointments with our Government saying we definitely can do stuff at a certain point then having the rug pulled from under you at the last minute.”
Before the end of our chat Oddie shares a “band bucket list” he wrote early on while the band were recording their first album, as if offering a reason for why he’s so calm about everything. “It was like ‘Do a bus tour of the UK, Europe and America’, ‘headline Brixton Academy’, and ‘play on the pyramid stage at Glastonbury’. We did all those things in the first year. Everything else is just a plus from here.”
Whilst they may have crossed everything off that list a few years ago, Wolf Alice are showing no signs of complacency. Blue Weekend shines even without a stage, and presents a group at their peak, creating the best music of their lives.
Wolf Alice’s new album Blue Weekend is out now via Liberator Music/Dirty Hit.
Patrick Campbell is a writer and DJ based in Melbourne. They are on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Jordan Hemingway