For too long, it rock music has either been simplistic singles or trendy middle class nonsense. There hasn’t been a spiritual exploration combining with great pop melodies, arguably, since The Horrors’ ‘Primary Colours’. Thank god then, for Wolf Alice.
From the opening notes of ‘Heavenward’, the guitar scene begins its quest to win its integrity back. The otherworldly riffs, along with the forever stunning vocals of Ellie Rowsell walk that experimental line of early Verve. It has all the beauty of Ride’s ‘Vapour Trail’ but the fragility of Rowsell’s vocal as she says a heart breaking goodbye to a mother takes it to another level.
‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ furthers this ascension into the curious and unknown. Rowsell combines her spiky yet angelic vocals with poetry on the most brutal of examinations of the self. As choruses go, few will unite adoring crowds with such romantic pessimism (“What if it’s not meant for me? Love”).
Put a comforting arm round Rowsell at your peril though. This is no damsel in distress. Despite the brilliance of Sara Pascoe’s ‘Animal’, or Deborah Frances White’s ‘Guilty Feminist’ podcast, Feminism’s struggle needs more icons in the mainstream to fight archaic attitudes. Step forward the Nirvana and Sonic Youth fire breathing ‘Yuk Foo’:
“Am I a bitch to not like you anymore?
Punch me in my face, I wouldn't even fight you no more
Cause you bore me
You bore me to death, well deplore me
No, I don't give a shit”
Like all great records, there are nuggets of pop gold lurking. ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ screams hit single, ‘Yuk Foo’ has the potency of the Pixies’ ‘Debaser’ and ‘Space & Time’ feels like a Sub Pop classic from the early 90s.
It’s on ‘Planet Hunter’ that this album is best encapsulated. Lyrically, a darkness looms as Rowsell reaches for reason and closure on a break up that seemingly, is never coming. The guitars switch up from jingle jangle to rock behemoth in an instant and create the sense of destruction within the protagonist’s persona impeccably. Conceptually, nothing is new, but, it’s the authenticity of delivery which is so striking. The raw emotion tangible and the ambition to channel this through varying styles is laudable.
The album closes with its title track, and leaves you with the ultimate example of why Wolf Alice have to matter in 2017. There are Nick McCabe guitar jams, Jimmy Page riffs, Sandy Denny vocals, Poly Styrene vocals, pagan-esque folk parts and punk rock. Their artistic bravery knows no bounds and in a world of ‘play it safe’ types, is a remarkable thing.