Wolf Alice’s third album is quite simply their boldest and most daring work yet. This will come as no surprise to fans and a sure-fire relief to the band, who have already achieved such critical acclaim on their previous records. When you have a Grammy nominated single (Moaning Lisa Smile) and a Mercury prize-winning album (Visions of a Life) under your belt, it could be easy to buckle under the weight of expectations that come with writing your next release. ‘Blue Weekend’ is the album that the band almost forgot to write. Who can blame them? Upon return from their colossal 187 date world tour, which included sell out shows at London’s Alexandra Palace and iconic Brixton academy, Lead singer Ellie Rowsell recounts, “When we stopped touring, I thought ‘Fuck I haven’t written any songs’”. The band hastily set to work, first creating some demos in a converted church in Somerset. Later heading to one of the band’s favourite places to work, ICP Studios in Belgium, the residential studio where 2014’s EP ‘Creature Songs’ was created. This inadvertently led to Wolf Alice quarantining before it was ‘cool’. The Covid pandemic hit as they began laying down tracks for ‘Blue Weekend’ in early 2020, boarder closures essentially allowing the band to cocoon together and double down on the creative process. Produced by Markus Dravs whose alumni includes Arcade Fire, Bjork and Florence and the Machine, this record in its maturity and depth feels like Wolf Alice raising the bar and tossing it even higher in the air.
Interestingly, Wolf Alice chose to bookend their album with two songs of the same name. Slow burning opener The Beach begins with a quote from Macbeth’s witches, “When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning or in rain”. Deliberately ominous this sets the stage for an album that is in equal parts as dark and magical as ‘The Scottish Play’ itself. The song describes feeling anxious for the night ahead to the point where memories and imagined scenarios blur into one. Beaches is about reaching the stage in your mid-twenties where you start to consider how good some of your friends are for you. The line “We clink the glass, but we look at the floor,” describes the feeling of going through the motions of drinking and partying without connecting on a human level. The overarching theme of the album is the constant oscillation from overthinking to letting go. This is mirrored in the music throughout, as one instrument or element is reserved, another is allowed to go full throttle and shine through. Here the drumbeat stays at a steady tempo allowing the vocals to grow stronger and louder. This builds into an epic and emotional chorus before coming to a dramatic end to silence in an almost orchestral fashion. By the albums close, the mood has changed to something more mellow and nostalgic. The Beach II lyrics are breezy and romantic, “Sun goes down, and it must come up, consistent like the laughter”. Contradictory to its sister song, The Beach II is a love song to friendship, a fitting happy ending after the emotional rollercoaster of Blue Weekend.
Unsurprisingly, ‘Blue Weekend’ is an album full of contrasts. Rowsell is continuously self-critical and in the same breath self-celebratory. One of the album’s stand out tracks, Delicious Things describes feeling totally out of your depth yet knowing a part of you is really enjoying it. The song centres on the party scene in LA and the lure of the glitz and glamour of the ‘Hollywood Hills’. The song is lyrically very self-aware, describing the fear that comes with being far from home, paired with the excitement that the opportunity to re-invent yourself brings. The opening question “Could I Belong here?” is barely a whisper, the soft vocals classic of Rowsell are beautifully vulnerable. Contrasting with the confident voice of the insistent chorus, “I won’t say no I’ll give it a go” which describes the temptation to indulge in things which you know are bad for you, in hope that it will help you feel more accepted. Continuing the party theme, Play the Greatest Hits is a tongue in cheek song celebrating the hedonistic fun of drugs, casual sex and loud music. A readymade party anthem with thrashing guitars and fast, punky shouting vocals sure to get the pit circles flowing once it has its live debut.
Relationships feature heavily on ‘Blue Weekend’ however; there is a distinct lack of romance. Instead, the relationships we come across are disappointing, dissatisfying and turbulent. Musically, No Hard Feelings is cut from the same cloth as 2017’s hit Don’t Delete the Kisses however, this time the fairy-tale love story has ended. Comprised of just acoustic guitar and vocals, Safe from Heartbreak is the most delicate and stripped back Wolf Alice have ever been. Strong vocal artists such as Kate Bush and The Roches were a big inspiration behind this album, Rowsell really homing in on the idea of using the voice as an “instrument”. The use of isolated vocals and choir like harmonies really give this song a celestial energy. Here the Wolf Alice have created a soul-stirring track, guaranteed to stun audiences into silence during a quiet acoustic moment of a live set. The first single from the album Last Man on Earth is another example where Roswell’s vocals really shine. The touching piano ballad is a clever play on the common par “not if you were the last man on earth”. The song is cynical ode to an ex-lover’s sense of entitlement. Despite this, the song feels like a song of celebration and empowerment as it soars into its uplifting chorus. Last man on Earth is the most musically ambitious on the album, boldly combining piano, strings and even a playful guitar solo from Joff Oddie. The energy and drama of the ensemble can’t help but bring comparisons to The Beatles A Day in the Life.
‘Blue Weekend’ is an album absolutely brimming with creativity from start to finish. This is Wolf Alice showing the world what talented and versatile musicians they are. They move effortlessly from the 90’s style grunge of Smile, to moving ballad Safe From Heartbreak, to the synth soaked 80’s pop of How Can I Make it Okay. I have resisted the temptation to break down ‘Blue Weekend’ track by track, as this is where the fun lies, discovering the intricacies of these masterpieces for yourself. The record is the best we have heard from the band lyrically, though Rowsell is very clear when she insists these songs are not ‘diary entry’. You could argue that this is what makes the record so brilliant. These are songs based on real experience and feelings, without having to be specific to a particular time and place, allowing them to be enjoyed by anyone. ‘Blue Weekend’ is still the same Wolf Alice of old, with songs about nights out and catching the bus back home but the songs are more ambitious, more rounded. ‘Blue Weekend’ sounds polished without being plastic. This is the album to cement Wolf Alice’s place at the forefront of the British music scene for many years to come. Get the album at: https://wolfalice.co.uk/blueweekend
The band have also recorded a series of live performances to give their fans a snippet of what is to come on their nearly sold-out tour in 2022. The band have even created a film to co-inside with the album, directed by the brilliant Jordan Hemmingway (Gucci, Comme Des Garçons). If you are desperate to see what the band have been up to, you can catch it at The Picture House Central in London on 10th June, followed by an acoustic show. Tour tickets are available at: https://wolfalice.co.uk/#tour