The Wombats – ‘Glitterbug’

Embracing pop, the Liverpudlians' move away from the indie disco brings mixed results

Since 2007, The Wombats have fulfilled a basic human, but peculiarly British, need for melodic, irreverent indie pop that doesn’t take itself too seriously. They’ve always hinted at an inner turmoil beneath their external sanguinity, but the Liverpool trio’s last album, 2011’s ‘This Modern Glitch’, was ‘dark’ like Ant & Dec with a mild hangover: even when singing about one-night stands, vampiric cityscapes or the black dog of depression, they couldn’t help but sound wholesomely pre-watershed.

This follow-up similarly aspires to be more than your standard collection of disposable indie night fodder. Inspired by frontman Matt Murphy’s sojourns in Los Angeles, ‘Glitterbug’ documents a turbulent (and apparently fictional) relationship between an English boy and a Californian girl, though if you weren’t already aware of that, the narrative is kept vague enough that you might never notice it. Naturally, their sense of humour, not to mention their fondness for pop culture references, remains intact – the opening track is called ‘Emoticon’ and its first line is about how “It’s tough to stay objective, baby/ With your tongue abseiling down my neck” – but on the whole, this is a more mature, less gratingly zany offering than its predecessors. It’s also one which largely abandons the sonic pretence of being an ‘indie’ band in favour of becoming a ‘pop’ one.

Mostly, ‘Glitterbug’ occupies an equidistant point between Passion Pit and The 1975; only ‘The English Summer’ and ‘Pink Lemonade’ bear much resemblance to the antsy, fidgety post-punk The Wombats made their name with, and both end up falling somewhat flat. In its place are the sleek, synth-laden likes of ‘Be Your Shadow’ and ‘Headspace’ – precision-engineered for mass appeal, but no less effective for it. Not everything works quite so well – insipid single ‘Give Me a Try’ is an instant left-swipe of a song, and ‘Curveballs’ provides an anticlimactic ending, bringing closure to the album’s narrative and little else besides – but a certain amount of filler is always going to be de rigueur for a band like The Wombats. They’ll live or die by their singles, and ‘Glitterbug’ finds them in better-than-decent nick.