Arrogant boasts and grand manifestos are all well and good, yet in time you come to realise they don’t always promise great things but in fact mask off the whole damn merry-go-round; and, alighting you happen upon Wild Beasts. Four smart, serious young men from the Lake District, they’re named after the Fauvists, an early 20th century art movement and their ‘Limbo Panto’ seems to hail from a similarly bygone age. But if titles like ‘Vigil For A Fuddy Duddy’ and ‘Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants’ sound as exceedingly traditional as a tea-rooms filled with antique china, brace yourself for a shot of weird. Wild Beasts don’t simply hearken back to the past, they use it to create their universe, one where Bertie Wooster, Phileas Fogg and Aleister Crowlet heard the taut funk of Orange Juice and decided to form their own popular beat combo. Any why not?
Now in the body of Tom Fleming, Wild Beasts have a fine vocalist, one who croons stoutly through the galloping ‘The Devil’s Crayon’ like any number of Alex Kapranos wannabees. Thing is, Fleming isn’t Wild Beasts’ lead singer. That role is filled by Hayden Thorpe, whose voice springs into life will all the grace and poise of a ballet dancer but, somewhere along the way, collapses into a bizarre chorus of whinnies, growls and grizzles. For the most part, you can barely figure out what he’s on about but occasionally the odd nugget of sense escapes.
‘Woebegone Wanderers’ is the tale of a hapless football team languishing in the lower divisions: “There’ll be reason for treason this season/The players are slack, the boss has been sacked/Just win the big match, it’s all I can ask!” And is he really crooning “Taa-aake these chips with cheese/As an offering of peace” on ‘Please, Sir’?
Luckily, the music rises to reach his challenge. ‘The Club of Fathomless Love’ is a demented fairground of see-sawing bass and Tales Of The Unexpected organs, while ‘Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants’ crafts a superbly rickety skiffle-disco beat from atop which Thorpe yelps “Race me! Race me! Race me!” like he’s just hotwired Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. By the end, it’s clear ‘Limbo, Panto’ doesn’t toot its own horn because it doesn’t need to. It exists in its own eccentric, unique universe, and that is the best thing that any debut album can do.