It’s been a long time since Wolf Alice has featured prominently in my life. I started out at CUB Magazine writing about Break The Chain festival at the House of St Barnabas, an event organised and headlined by the band. SInce then, they’ve had nothing in the way of shows or new tracks. When they teased something on their social media a week ago, it’s fair to say I was more than excited. Just a single would have made my month. Add an album announcement, and I am not going to shut up about this for – give or take – a few months.
Blue Weekend already seems like AOTY material. Written in 2019 and recorded in Belgium before and during the start of the coronavirus outbreak, that contrast alone seems interesting. How will songs pre-pandemic (from what feels like a whole different world) be twisted by recording in a state of near-total isolation? The only clues we have are the name, for blue skies rather than sadness, and the first single.
And what a single it is. While undoubtedly still a trademark Wolf Alice song, ‘The Last Man On Earth’ treads ground the band hasn’t visited before, and this new exploration is clear from the very start. The instrumentation is decidedly minimalist, just a piano playing a melancholy melody as lead singer/angel Ellie Rowsell’s vocals come in. There are accentuations of higher, twinkling piano lines at times in the early verses, but that’s it. It’s all gorgeously delicate and vulnerable, something I never expected to be saying about a Wolf Alice lead single.
Apparently inspired by the writing of Kurt Vonnegut and the everyday arrogance of humans, I find something in Wolf Alice’s lyrics absolutely heart-wrenching. Maybe it’s just the delivery, but I’m more emotional right from the first line than I have been for any other new song in at least a year. To me, lines like the opening one – “Who were you to ask for anything more?” – feel more like loneliness and anxiety than arrogance. When the chorus comes over, sonically angelic, these feelings are only intensified.
“And when your friends are talking
You hardly hear a word
You were the first person hereWOLF ALICE – ‘THE LAST MAN ON EARTH’
And the last man on the earth”
When, after the first chorus, the track finally starts to build, it still remains unlike any other Wolf Alice track. It’s something far more classic than grungy, especially through the Beatles-esque guitar solo. The final extended chorus is a splendid crescendo, with strings and half-screamed backing vocals building a climatic soundscape that is both totally Wolf Alice, and totally remote from much of their past work.
You can never predict what musical moves Wolf Alice will make, and ‘The Last Man On Earth’ is another reminder. While not a song I loved on first listen, the second time Annie Mac spun the track on her show as the ‘Hottest Record in the World’… I was spellbound.
Blue Weekend will release on June 11th, and is available to pre-order now. Vinyl addicts like me will be excited to see the Green, Blue, Red, and Yellow versions, available on the band’s webstore, Rough Trade, at Independent record stores, and HMV (respectively). In the meantime, if you’re not familiar with the band, why not check out their Mercury Prize winning album, Visions Of A Life?