|Image Credit: Adam B Flickr|
Artist: Wild Beasts
Album: Boy King
Record Label: Domino Recordings
Release Date: 5th August 2016
Kendal quartet Wild Beasts' prospective attitude towards sex and sexuality has always tip-toed along the line between garishness and sensuality, between blunt suggestion and a multi-layered literacy. Their fifth full-length LP Boy King recorded in Dallas and helmed by John Congleton (St. Vincent, Swans) comes equipped with statements from lead vocalist Hayden Thorpe like "it was time to put on the leather jacket", and "we've become the band we always objected to being". In an interview with The Quietus, Thorpe put forward Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral and The Weeknd's Beauty Behind The Madness as chief influences, citing sex as both self-deprecation and as hyper-carnal outrage. Thematically, Boy King indulges in lad culture in the most strikingly direct way, but it's not for want of a healthy (and very necessary) dose of subversion either.
Taking as its stock male sexual entitlement as weakness, insecurity and depravity, on this record it's arguable that Wild Beasts' randiest wanderings get their most tangible and repulsive expression here. On the surface it presents itself as the kind of bravado and braggadocia that holds a mirror up to ugly club antics. The songs do recoil from that aesthetic more often than not, but they also embrace it. The real question is how far do the band go to denounce the hubris of the male front, and do they do it convincingly?
For the most part the answer is that they're self-aware, introspective and understated enough to pull the trick off with texture and dexterity. On 'Tough Guy', perhaps the filthiest, most riff-centric moment the band have laid to tape thus far, Thorpe is almost immediately self-deprecating as he sings "you know the route well, you follow the old path, to a new Hell". The subtle but essential vocal chemistry between Thorpe and co-vocalist Tom Fleming rears it's head clearly on lead-off single 'Get My Bang'; "That's how I get my bang", coos Thorpe before Fleming counters with "we're going darker ages".
Album highlight 'Celestial Creatures' is not so much a rejection of depravity as a positioning of it upon a lofty pedestal ("You're a deity, and I have nothing but my beliefs"). Its imagery of champagne-sipping angels glides perfectly aside the album's most beautifully kaleidoscopic moment compositionally. '2BU' is the first example of Fleming taking on lead vocal duties and he hones in on rather terrifying, stalker-ish sensibilities as he croons "I hope you run... Let's hope I don't find you first... You know that I'm the worst". Most apocalyptic and degrading of all is 'He The Colossus', a double-edged sword of lust and accountability, arrogance and self-pity; "Do I dare to desert the universe, lest I become He The Colossus?".
Chief offender of Wild Beasts' not being sufficiently subversive is the unreservedly shallow 'Eat Your Heart Out Odonis'. Elsewhere 'Alpha Female', despite its deconstruction of male entitlement is lyrically lazy. Although Boy King is a brash and seemingly unrepentant piece of work in many ways, look closely enough through the cracks and the group's deliberate exercising of short-comings and embarrassment are intricately and interestingly dealt with. And as ever, it leaves one wondering whether the band's understanding of human nature at its most base and identifiable will ever run dry.
Key Tracks: 'Celestial Creatures', 'He The Colossus', 'Get My Bang'
For Fans Of: Glass Animals, Radiohead