WOLF ALICE – ” Blue Weekend ” Best Albums Of 2021

Posted: December 23, 2021 in MUSIC
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The London four-piece Wolf Alice emerged from lockdown with a soaring triumph of pop rock, brimming with elegantly polished song writing and confident ambition

Wolf Alice singer Ellie Rowsell has called Blue Weekend her least autobiographical album: whatever the inspiration, it tells a convincingly lived-in story of embracing nihilism following the rupture of friendships and romantic relationships. “I take you back / Yeah, I know it seems surprising,” she thunders on Lipstick on the Glass. It’s here that Wolf Alice come into their own as adept musical shapeshifters, using their broad influences to explore the extremes of alienation: there are woozy fantasies, self-destructive ragers; stunning anthems of anxiety. Big, confident pop-rock albums are rare these days – and their demise hardly bemoaned – but there’s an undeniable pleasure in finding one adventurous, ambitious and human enough to remind you why they used to be so essential.

 “Blue Weekend” is Wolf Alice’s biggest and most immediately satisfying album – cresting shoegaze, woozy classic rock, inventive acoustic song writing cohered by melodies that aren’t just sticky, but frequently moving. It’s also one that’s seldom as straightforward as it seems, deriving its greatest potency from Ellie Rowsell’s subtly layered song writing.

it tells a convincingly lived-in story of searching in dark places for answers to some indefinable question; of self-sabotage becoming a logical response to having your worst suspicions confirmed. Rowsell’s lyrics have never been stronger, telling of a breakup with friends (brooding opener The Beach), a litany of creeps, misogynists and a cheating lover: “I take you back / Yeah, I know it seems surprising,” she thunders on Lipstick on the Glass with a measure of ecstatic control, as if mirroring her prideful composure.

Similarly, at first pass, the woozy Delicious Things comes off as a classic fantasy of a wide-eyed newcomer seduced by life in Los Angeles. But Rowsell is well aware that “the vibes are kinda wrong” and that the man whose bed she’s in is “here for one thing”. Nevertheless, she sings, paradoxically, of feeling “alive, like Marilyn Monroe”, and the dreamy song billows skywards like the ill-fated bombshell’s skirts, a blissed-out wall of guitar steadily charring. Maybe certain annihilation is the fantasy, though some self-preservationist instinct kicks in: “Hey, is mum there?” Rowsell sings in a small voice at the end. “It’s just me / I felt like calling.”

Blue Weekend” was released with Rowsell, Joff Oddie, Theo Ellis and Joel Amey all on the cusp of 30 – a time when youth’s reckless momentum slows and you’re forced to puzzle over what’s next, or at least to start being more honest with yourself. The album’s turning point, “How Can I Make It OK?“, plays out like an attempt at consolation, laced with their own doubts at being able to offer it: “How do we sell you the world?” Rowsell sings expansively. But they clearly understood the assignment: the song swells to a euphoric, girl-group-indebted sandstorm of a chorus that’s stirring to the point of confrontation. Similarly tender, but more barbed, is the gorgeous “The Last Man on Earth“, which wields opiate psychedelia a la Bowie or Floyd to slyly mock a blinkered character awaiting divine intervention instead of sorting their own life out. The music carries you off like a dream, but Rowsell’s lyrics are resolutely grounded.

Although written pre-pandemic, “How Can I Make It OK?” resonated eerily with these strange, transitional times. “A moment to change it all / Had life before been so slow?” Ellie Rowsell sings almost operatically, cautiously savouring the potential for change. Whatever may come next, happiness is paramount. “How can I make it OK?” the band sing in tender, nervous staccato, before the song cracks open to bolster their reassurances with volcanic swagger – showing this special band’s dynamic at its best.

There is a powerful magnetism between the scale of these songs and the detailed empathy and frustrations they contain. But Wolf Alice also trust when to pull back. Penultimate song “No Hard Feelings” is the inevitable, hard breakup moment, the defenceless conclusion to the earlier heartache. “It’s not hard to remember when it was tough to hear your name,” Rowsell sings gracefully, to just softly thrummed guitar and twinkling ambience: “Crying in the bathtub to Love Is a Losing Game.” This ending is a beginning, she knows, an idea threaded into closer “The Beach II“, a sweet dirge that marks the reconciliation of that broken friendship: “The tide comes in as it must go out.”

These are grand gestures wielded elegantly, and they make “Blue Weekend” a complete, moving piece of work. In a sense, it’s a record that feels very familiar – a big, confident pop-rock album – but then you remember what an anomaly those are these days, when the form is so diminished as to have been almost abandoned. Few are bemoaning its demise, but there’s an undeniable pleasure in finding one adventurous, ambitious and human enough to remind you why they used to be so essential.

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