There was always a sense of unfinished business about Wild Beasts, the horny, sensitive four-piece who surprised fans when they called it a day in 2017, with five – well, four – acclaimed albums to their name. Their first four records were distinctly idiosyncratic and British, all Baroque-pop and frontman Hayden Thorpe’s divisive falsetto vocal, which delivered musings on sex and masculinity with a lightness out of step with many of their mid-noughties indie peers. Yet 2016’s ‘Boy King’, recorded in Dallas, Texas with uber-producer John Congleton, beefed up the sound as they indulged in a rockier American aesthetic.
It received a lukewarm reception and the band soon split, as though they’d fallen apart at the first sign of trouble. Now Thorpe has emerged with ‘Diviner’, his first solo album, a collection of muted piano ballads. His voice – which on ‘Boy King’ had become a lusty croon – here often resembles the highly emotive, undulating style of Anohni, formerly of Antony and the Johnsons. It’s an acquired taste, no doubt, but is offset by the sturdiness of some quite extraordinary arrangements. ‘Straight Lines’, for instance, opens with chiming piano strokes, before the track billows out into a Chic-style funk guitar line overlaid with synthesiser.
‘Earthly Needs’ is similarly propulsive, its taut bass-and-drums set-up spiralling out into a synth-led sci-fi soundscape as Thorpe implores, “How long will our love take? / When it won’t obey?”, before he tries to talk himself down from the histrionics: “How long until I laugh at this?” By contrast, ‘Anywhen’ is serene, accompanied by swooning violin and a looped piano refrain underpinned by minimalist percussion. “How heavy can love really be?”, Thorpe asks. The answer, it seems, is very heavy indeed. This is an album of lovelorn ballads, and yet, for all the melodrama and the idiosyncrasies of Thorpe’s vocals, it’s a breezy listen.
The buoyant pre-chorus to ‘Straight Lines’, for instance, could be repurposed for a bouncy pop song, before it collapses back into minimalism, like an exploding star, and Thorpe demands: “How am I supposed to live / When living with you, baby, means I end up like this?” ‘Human Knot’, with its tasteful production and occasional overlapping vocals, wouldn’t have been out of place James Blake’s most recent album, ‘Assume Form’. Wild Beasts sometimes seemed overly enamoured with ideology, self-aware to a fault, while Thorpe’s solo album is simpler, more direct, more self-contained – and therein lies its power.