“Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote in his 1963 satirical, post-modern novel Cat’s Cradle, unwittingly penning a line that would be quoted on a million earnest travel blogs decades later. When she was reading that book recently, Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell was struck not with the urge to jet off to somewhere off the beaten track and romanticise it all online, but to stand firmly against the book’s pseudo-deep assertion.
“I thought, ‘Uh, your peculiar travel suggestion isn’t a dancing lesson from God – it’s just a travel suggestion!’” she explains in a press statement. “Why does everything need to mean something more?”
That is the jump-off point for ‘The Last Man On Earth’, the first track from Wolf Alice’s third album ‘Blue Weekend’, which is due June 11 via Dirty Hit. Rowsell says the song is about “the arrogance of humans” and riffs on her feelings about that Vonnegut quote in its opening lines. “Who are you to ask for anything more?” she questions. “Do you wait for your dancing lessons to be sent from God?”
Relatability is big currency in pop culture these days and it’s a common phenomenon for us to interpret songs, books, movies and more based on our own experiences. We inject importance into their storylines and lyrics based on how they make us feel about our lives, the lines between whether a piece of art is actually good or just makes us feel seen increasingly blurred. It’s an event that doesn’t escape Rowsell’s of our self-important society: “Every book you take and you dust off from the shelf/ Has lines between lines between lines that you read about yourself,” she observes. “Does a light shine on you?”
It’s sharp, smart songwriting that provides both a critical assessment of humanity’s egotistical impulses and allows us to do the very thing it warns of – finding ourselves in the lyrics and moulding them to fit our worlds. Wolf Alice have long proven themselves to be one of the best and brightest bands in Britain, but here they give us yet more evidence that they’re still setting the standard for UK music and beyond.
Usually, the start of a new era for the four-piece is signalled by a storming, moshpit-inciting banger. Their 2015 debut album ‘My Love Is Cool’ had the sludgy swagger of ‘Giant Peach’ and ‘Yuk Foo’ – the first track from their phenomenal 2017 album ‘Visions Of A Life’ – set fire to everything that had come before in a blaze of urgent rock riffs and guttural screams from Rowsell. Even EPs ‘Blush’ (2013) and ‘Creature Songs’ (2014) introduced themselves with tracks that made you want to throw yourself headfirst into a sweaty mass of strangers.
‘The Last Man On Earth’, though, changes tack. It’s not until midway through the song that we get much more than Rowsell’s vocals and a simple piano line. It’s a different pace for the band – one that puts their singer at the forefront and lets her emotive voice do the work until we enter a grand, powerful second half. As she delivers one of the song’s most cutting lines (“Who are you to ask for anything more/ The only thing you should be asking for is help”), drummer Joel Amey, bassist Theo Ellis and guitarist Joff Oddie enter the stage and gradually lift the track to epic new heights that dip between vintage psych riffs and majestic walls of sound built to fill arenas.
On Wolf Alice’s last album, they came good on their early promise and cemented themselves as one of the best bands around, reinforced by a deserved Mercury Prize win. If ‘The Last Man On Earth’ is even just a hint at the greatness to come on their third album, ‘Blue Weekend’ should propel them to the level of major festival headliners and arena conquerors with ease.