On first glance, Blue Weekend is a bit of a change for Wolf Alice. There are superficial changes; the title has two words where their last two albums had 4, there are 11 tracks as opposed to 12, and the closer doesn’t veer wildly towards six minutes long. Less superficially, the overall tone is unlike either My Love Is Cool or Visions of a Life. The crushing, epic crescendos of overdriven guitars and screamed vocals are absent, the overall sound a bit less in your face. Think more ‘Soapy Water’ than ‘Space & Time’, ‘Giant Peach’, or ‘You’re A Germ’.
That is not to say this isn’t a distinctively Wolf Alice album. The soundscapes are still cavernous but veer closer to the relative peace and vastness of a rainforest, rather than the pressing energy of a gladiatorial arena shown in the prior records. Pianos, synths, and organs have stepped in to fill space, complimenting a vocal approach that is more open and sung rather than whispered or snarled. With generous lashings of reverb, the overall production creates space and doesn’t feel the need to immediately cram it full of noise and violence. Notwithstanding, the singles ‘How Can I Make It OK’ and ‘No Hard Feelings’ show the more upbeat and energetic versions of this different sound shaping.
‘Delicious Things’ and ‘Lipstick On The Glass’ straddle the line between classically Wolf Alice and more spacious vibes best in my eyes. ‘Delicious Things’ leans more into the moody while describing a night out in the states, only to soar in wonderment at being in L.A. during the choruses. While surfy guitars accentuating throughout there’s a real reminder of the Creature Songs EP, while generally being nothing like it. On the other hand, ‘Lipstick On The Glass’ flows melodically under a soaring vocal that has the energy of ‘Turn To Dust’, only amplified. Both songs take the classic sounds of Wolf Alice, and lead them in new, freer directions to create a less obvious end product, while still maintaining the character of the band.
When it is seen fit to unleash a more primal energy, it comes out with a flourish. ‘Play The Greatest Hits’ is a breakneck pop-punk joke about the heterogeneity of songs played on nights out, while single ‘Smile’ heads into seriously grungy, rifftastic territory as it demonstrates that confidence and power don’t necessitate that one is a mouthy arse. If anything, it’s an empowering song, encouraging listeners to embrace their oddities and ignore those who dislike you for not conforming to their expectations of your person.
While moving the game on for Wolf Alice, Blue Weekend also calls back to eras they’ve long passed. ‘Safe From Heartbreak (if you never fall in love)’ is almost just Ellie’s vocal over a series of pacey fingerpicked chords, feeling a lot like their very early – almost folk – work. Even with this feeling of times passed, the confidence and strength with which the vocal is delivered shows the great steps the band have made over the last decade.
It’s safe to say my thoughts on Blue Weekend are not final. At no time has it been predictable. Lead single ‘The Last Man On Earth’ defied all expectations by being a piano-ballad-come-classic-rock-tear-inducing-epic, and that sort of surprise really set the tone for the entire album. To fully appreciate the slower tracks I’ll definitely need more listening time, but overall my immediate impressions are that this is an excellent album, though not on the level of either previous work in my admittedly rock-biased opinion. My only concern is how much of the album will work on tour, as ‘Silk’ and ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ already provided enough relaxation in a set for my tastes.
What is sure, is that with Blue Weekend, Wolf Alice have only cemented their position as one of the best bands to emerge in the last decade. They’ve demonstrated an ability to explore different sounds and make them their own rather than losing their essence in new ventures. It certainly seems I’m not the only person who things this – as I write Blue Weekend has just become a number 1 record!