After receiving critical acclaim on their previous two albums, Kendal’s lusty pop crooners are back with their latest LP Smother. Although recognizable in style, it is still a departure from 2009’s Two Dancers as it is a slower, more sensual venture into erotic ballads for the four English blokes.
Aside from the first few moments of overbearingly disturbing vocals on opening track ‘Lion’s Share’ (did he just say “I take you in my mouth”?), Smother has a beautiful, haunting undertone that showcases the striking falsettos of vocalists Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming, as well as the precision in the instrumentation of drummer Chris Talbot and guitarist/keyboardist Ben Little. With lyrics that can vary between fitting and inappropriate eroticism, the album is clearly one of love, but whether it is optimistic or pessimistic is up for debate. There is a continuous theme of guilt in Thorpe’s overtly sexual lyrics. He sounds like a strikingly similar, though less creepy Antony Hegarty, and although the songs can be at times vaudevillian, it is a delight to listen to start to finish.
Never shying away from eccentricity, Wild Beasts have cited some new influences on Smother. A direct reference to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is made on the dreamy, heavily-synthed ‘Bed of Nails’ as Thorpe screams “It’s alive, it’s alive, it’s aliiiiiiiiiiive” over alarming keyboards and warm propulsive guitars. In recent interviews Thorpe even compared the band to the infamous monster, having “always felt like this odd creature that’s sort of hard to love”.
Adding to the ambiguous nature of the album, the daunting alarmclock-like keyboards and heavy drums on ‘Plaything’ blur the distinction between love and lust, as Thorpe’s breathy lyrics play on both emotions as he asks his new plaything to take off her clothes so he can do as he pleases.
Smother is a successful display of experimentation. It shows that Wild Beasts are anything but afraid of taking risks. All I urge is that you listen more than once because for a first time listener of Wild Beasts, it might be a bit much. Believe me, the uneasiness will subside, and the impressive attention to instrumentation, lyrics and production will become more and more evident.
Tags: Wild Beasts