By Damian Ho
Bands grow up and their sounds change. It’s unfortunate but it happens. When English alternative rock band Wolf Alice began work on Blue Weekend—their third studio album—they faced the unenviable position of adapting their songwriting to reflect the reality of their new lives without alienating longtime fans of the raw sound of their former records. The result was a critically acclaimed and universally loved album that reflected the band’s maturity while also seamlessly fitting into their discography—no small feat for a still relatively young band.
After achieving international success and widespread acclaim, bands and songwriters typically find themselves at a creative crossroads. Some bands attempt to cling to the sound that brought them initial fame by repeating the same themes of earlier work—resulting in songs that can, at times, sound like the band playing a caricature of themselves. Other bands may take the approach of finding an entirely new sound and songwriting process—resulting in a sound that is more experimental and creatively exciting, yet one that leaves existing listeners without a sense of familiarity they may have been searching for. The magic of Wolf Alice lies in the way that the band incorporates both approaches and does it extremely well.
This perfect synthesis is best seen in the second track of the new album, “Delicious Things.” As opposed to attempting to hide less-relatable themes of celebrity and success in favor of more local and universally-experienced subjects, lyricist and frontwoman Ellie Rowsell fully leans into her new reality as a minor celebrity in Los Angeles. In fact, she draws direct attention to this with the lines “I’m in the Hollywood Hills, I’m no longer pulling pints, I’m no longer cashing tills, and I’m alive I feel like Marilyn Monroe.” This setting stands in clear distinction to scenes in previous albums such as sneaking onto local buses with friends in the track “Bros” from the band’s first album. That being said, this reflection on life in LA is still written about from the first-hand perspective of a suspicious outsider—giving it an undeniable signature Wolf-Alice-feel. The song is an honest and refreshing recognition of a new reality for the band, yet one that still contains evidence of their roots and original style. The result is—in my opinion—one of the best songs of the year and one that can be used as a benchmark example of how an indie band’s songwriting can develop after achieving fame.
Without a doubt, Blue Weekend contains some of Wolf Alice’s most delicate and beautiful songs in their discography with tunes like “The Last Man on the Earth” and “No Hard Feelings.” I had an initial fear that the band would avoid these songs in their live set or, perhaps worse, lose the energy and interest of the audience compared to higher-energy tunes. However, this fear was quickly put to rest when these songs were not only played but were the ones that enraptured the audience the most. Rowsell brought the audience to an awestruck standstill with her tender and sincere performance of these songs accompanied by many murmurs of how accurate her voice sounded to the album recordings.
Wolf Alice also has an endearing and quirky confidence to them that adds to their appeal. When singer Rowsell lost her hair piece mid show, she made a brief face of embarrassment which quickly turned to a kind of laughing-at-yourself confidence as she swaggered around stage using the disconnected blonde extensions as a prop in her performance.
All in all, the new album and the accompanying performance showed a band that were confident in who they were and uncompromising in their creative efforts to continually evolve this identity. With these ingredients, Wolf Alice proved themselves as a band with the skills and creativity to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.