Wild Beasts have always been a fascinating, if disorienting, proposition. Their yelping falsetto vocals, oddly archaic vocabulary and pingpong instrumentation have grated on as many as they have charmed, but the originality and quality of debut Limbo, Panto was hard to deny. However, the problem with laying down such a distinct and unmistakable manifesto is that following it up is a dangerous game. How is it possible to progress and grow as a band when you’ve made such a unique niche for yourself? And without losing the aspects of your sound that people fell in love with in the first place? Second Album Syndrome indeed.
It’s a task Wild Beasts have tackled beautifully. Opener ‘The Fun Powder Plot’ starts as Two Dancers means to go on; the familiar nuances of Wild Beasts’ sound have been pulled into three dimensions like a magic eye picture. That’s not to say that Wild Beasts have previously lacked depth, but while Limbo, Panto was at times chaotic and dizzying, upon close inspection Two Dancers slides into focus to reveal a beautiful, elaborate design.
While previously their songs were taut, careering affairs that sounded that the showtunes that time forgot, here they are loosened up, slowed down and smoothed out. The skittering guitars and vocal hysterics of their debut refined to a gentle, sweeping groove, one that suits the twin croons of Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming all the more.
It’s not all change though; the idiosyncratic tension between their realist subject matter and their grandiose language and delivery is still present, leaving fans of their previous efforts (“take these chips with cheeeeese”, anyone?) with plenty to smile at. There’s the added bonus for denizens of provincial English towns as well as Tom proclaims his love for “girls from Hounslow, girls from Whitby” on ‘All The King’s Men’. It’s a personal touch emblematic of Wild Beast’s charm; they truly know how to engage with the listener. And it makes a nice change from Camden.
Thematically, Two Dancers is breathtaking. First single ‘Hooting and Howling’ details the night-time goings on of a gang of hooligans with remarkable poignancy: “We’re just brutes bored in our boots/we’re just brutes clowning round in cahoots/we’re just brutes looking for shops to loot/we’re just brutes hoping to have a hoot”, and again in standout ‘We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues’; “Why should we feel bad/for what we have done/We still got the taste dancin’ on our tongues /Love the smash’n'grab/of our goings on”, providing the point of view of Britain’s hoodies that you won’t read about in the Daily Mail. The sexual tension of the album, too, is hard to ignore. Whether it’s casual sex, “this is/a bootycall”, regret “I’m not saying the girls are worth the fines I’m paying”, or simple desire “how the makeup makes her face pretty”, the whole album is peppered with sexual references subtle and explicit. Two Dancers is a fitting title indeed.
For such an ostentatious album, its 37 minutes do seem brief; but such things hardly matter with the quality of the songs on display here, and isn’t the old adage to leave them wanting more? Well here we are, Wild Beasts, wanting more.