In Review: Wolf Alice - Blue Weekend

Four years on from the glorious Mercury Prize-winning ‘Visions of a Life’, Wolf Alice are back and still on top form with ‘Blue Weekend’. The band have entered an era of experimentation and owing to this, the sparkling new record feels completely uninhibited. A delicate balance of ruthless grungy riffs and moving ballads remain a staple of their sound, and ‘Blue Weekend’ serves this with new vigour.

Oozing with ferocity, Ellie Rowsell’s view of the world remains colourful but never rose-tinted — illustrated with crisp, candid accounts of relatable experiences. Over the decade since the band began, we’ve grown to adore her lyrical prowess and vulnerability. And yet, the new record is weighted with a level of maturity we haven’t quite seen before, with even the band gushing about it. “I think these are the best songs Ellie’s ever written,” confessed guitarist Joff Oddie. Rowsell and Oddie, alongside bandmates Joel Amey and Theo Ellis, have truly mastered the creation of allure-abundant soundscapes.

‘The Beach’ greets us with waves of calm, building to what eventually becomes a meticulously layered disarray. Its gently thumping guitar grows to be bold and frames the vast closing of overlapping vocals. ‘Delicious Things’ tumbles in with one of Rowsell’s various refined vocal techniques. Here, in speech-like style, she delivers the beginnings of a swingy, flowing and reverb-soaked track. The vibe here is indulgent and the guitar tone seems beautifully aged; lending the track to nostalgia-driven listeners and summer playlists.

‘Lipstick on The Glass’ is the luscious calm before the storm that is ‘Smile’, where we’re reunited with Rowsell’s signature yell in a fury-fused and mesmerising spill-all. Following the fallout from the previous album’s ‘Yuk Foo’,‘Smile’ hits back at the invasive reactions of those who found the lyrics gross or distressing due to their forthright, sexual nature (“I wanna fuck all the people I meet, Fuck all my friends and all the people in the street”). This reaction was justifiably frustrating to Rowsell, who said “I felt annoyed that there are things that people don’t want me to be”, and so she channelled this into ‘Smile’s electric, sassy charm.

The album’s diversity continues as we drift into ‘Safe From Heartbreak (if you never fall in love)’ which is quaint, and features clear, rich vocals atop folky guitar plucking. Its warmth turns to a haunting choral end which draws in gently before ‘How Can I Make It OK’ supplies dominant bass and powerful vocals with thrilling execution.

The thunderous ‘Play the Greatest Hits’ is bold and brutal. The dynamism here is achieved by menacing vocals and hedonistic imagery; punky and aggressive where it needs to be, but with enough space in the production to allow for a well-balanced listen despite it being a short (but snappy!) track. ‘Feeling Myself’ fills a beautiful spot in the record and sultry vocals give way to an echoey, deep synthy instrumental. Amey’s recent interest in production and programming led to delving into the world of Ableton, and much of the depth of the record versus its predecessors can be attributed to the lavish synths. To write about self-love was initially challenging for Rowsell, yet the delivery is natural and reinforces that her writing process appears to be unbridled these days.

It’s difficult to find words to portray just how sublime ‘The Last Man on Earth’ is. As the first single to precede ‘Blue Weekend’, I'll admit that I’ve spent a lot of time with this song already, but the context of the surrounding tracks give it a more beguiling undertone. Emotionally charged and sharp in its delivery, there’s a wisdom to the lyricism and charisma to the soft piano. ‘No Hard Feelings’ furthers this lyrical finesse, but this time framed in gentle guitar and a notable lack of percussion. Ending the album with ‘The Beach II’ takes us full circle in this hazy and hypnotic closer. Wailing, distorted guitar sits behind a slow but catchy riff: the two of which define the middle of the song, until rhythmic clapping and abstract percussive efforts lead to silence.

Getting back into the swing of things by reconnecting in an AirBnb in Somerset seems to be just what Wolf Alice needed, and writing demos in that period of time led to ‘Blue Weekend’ — an album with a magnetic atmosphere, amplified signature sound and newfound simplicity. While already a phenomenal live band, the time spent here on songwriting has paid off immeasurably by the sounds of the record, and I’m sure will continue to do so when the band can finally tour it.