“Every time you’ve been your more authentic self and people like it, that gives you the confidence to be even more authentic the next time and open up a bit more,” Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell told NME about her evolution as a songwriter earlier this year. On ‘Blue Weekend’, the band’s third album, her latest period of growth presents itself spectacularly – in a series of songs that showcase her best lyrics yet, ones that are, as she suggested, more confident and less guarded.
There are lines on this record that have the power to transport you to very specific places or feel like Rowsell has extracted your soul from your body, put it under a microscope, then handed you a report on her findings. They are particular in the stories they lay out but, within the details, offer places to find yourself and the tales you could tell. It’s a phenomenon that the singer and guitarist references on the piano-led, emotional epic ‘The Last Man On Earth’: “Every book you take that you dust off from the shelf/Has lines between lines between lines that you read about yourself.” Simultaneously, she analyses a compulsion of the human race and offers another opportunity to indulge in it yourself.
The increased openness in the front woman’s words is perhaps no surprise, given the six years Wolf Alice have had since releasing their debut album ‘My Love Is Cool’. In that time, they’ve grown from buzzy newcomers to a bonafide Big Deal, via milestones of success you can’t help but absorb confidence from: breathless praise for second album ‘Visions Of A Life’, a Mercury Prize win for that record in 2018, selling out their biggest headline show to date at London’s Alexandra Palace. Now, they’re making the step up to riotous festival headliners, leapfrogging from topping the bill at the likes of Truck to taking pole position at this year’s Latitude.
In broad strokes, ‘Blue Weekend’ is a study on relationships – yes, with romantic partners, but also with friends, with yourself and with the world at large. The sparse and minimal heartbreaker ‘No Hard Feelings’ contains evocative scenes within its exploration of a separation. “It’s not hard to remember when it was tough to hear your name,” Rowsell sighs. “Crying in the bathtub to ‘Love Is A Losing Game’.” The song referenced might change for different people, but the feeling that sucker-punches you from within is universal.
If that track takes you into the depths of lovelorn grief, sunkissed album closer ‘The Beach II’ whisks us off to somewhere much calmer. Here, Rowsell is by the shore, drinking lukewarm “liquid rose” with her mates, but in her narration positions herself as an observer looking on fondly. “The tide comes in as it must go out, consistent like the laughter/Of the girls on the beach, my girls on the beach, happy ever after,” she sings softly. Combined with the gently surging guitars and buzzing synths beneath her, the song captures a moment of magic that makes you feel like you’re hovering above your own memories of the tableau it depicts.
‘Smile’, a self-assured spiritual sister song to ‘Visions Of A Life’s rousing ‘Yuk Foo’, takes its inspiration partially from the response to that second album track, and particularly the line Rowsell screamed in the latter: “I wanna fuck all of the people I meet.” Over crunching riffs, the present-day version of her shoots down the world’s attempts to put her in a box and tell her how she should be. “And now you all think I’m unhinged/Wind her up and this honeybee stings,” she sneers at one point. “Did you think I was a puppet on strings?/Wind her up and this honeybee sings.”
She continues with her resolve to portray herself as she pleases in a way that will likely annoy those who baulked at that ‘Yuk Foo’ lyric. The dreamy, sensual ‘Feeling Myself’ takes on the subject of self-love, Rowsell putting her own spin on the theme of sexual independence: “He’s had so many lovers, don’t think he’s been pleasing anyone/ Doesn’t matter ‘bout numbers/ When it’s breaking news that it takes two to love.” Later, in a blast of confidence, she instructs someone to “keep my name on your lips/Let the double ‘L’ feel like a kiss.” The euphoric, dazzling rush that accompanies the final word is one of the most heavenly moments on an album that’s full of them.
If the singer and guitarist’s songwriting has become even more accomplished since Wolf Alice’s last album, then so has her bandmates’ too. ‘Blue Weekend’ is the group’s most cohesive listen, and keeps intact the restless spirit that makes their work so unpredictable and exciting.
On ‘Safe From Heartbreak (If You Never Fall In Love)’, they delve into fingerpicked folk melodies, drummer Joel Amey joining the frontwoman to sing in beautiful a cappella at the track’s end. ‘Play The Greatest Hits’, meanwhile, finds bassist Theo Ellis leading the verses with a rumbling, ominous bassline that drills directly into your bones, before guitarist Joff Oddie slathers urgent walls of noise over the chorus.
Wolf Alice reach the peak of their collective and individual powers on ‘Delicious Things’, the new title-holder for the best thing they’ve ever done. It’s a stunner that goes on a wide-eyed glide around Los Angeles, Rowsell careering through the highs and lows of finding escape in a romanticised city far from home. Her awestruck delivery (“I don’t care, I’m in the Hollywood Hills/I’m no longer pulling pints, I’m no longer cashing tills”) is as intoxicating as the widescreen soundscape beneath her that sends you soaring above the city, Downtown LA poking up on the horizon on one side, the Hollywood sign nestled into the hills on the other.
Towards the end of her adventures, Rowsell is drawn back to normality. “Hey, is mum there?” she asks through crackling production. “It’s just me, I felt like calling.” What goes up must come down, after all, but Wolf Alice themselves are showing no signs of descending any time soon. ‘Blue Weekend’ is another stone-cold masterpiece that further cements their place at the very peak of British music. Long may they remain there.
- Release date: June 4
- Record label: Dirty Hit