Wild Beasts – Smother
Wild Beasts’ new album is a smoothing of edges. Three years isn’t much to many bands, but ever since the riotous introductory knees-up and pants-down careering of debut album Limbo, Panto, the Cumbrian quartet have gradually planed down the harder edges of themselves. Smother is aptly named — it’s an album that would rather envelop you in clean sheets than drag you howling in a headlock toward an awkward, sticky dawn.
Which isn’t to say they’ve cleaned their brains. It’d be easy to spend these words talking final track ‘The End Came Too Soon’ alone. The seven-minute-plus song, with its methodical pace and at-ecstasy’s-edge vocal pants, is an ode to infinitely deterred ejaculation. In it, Hayden Thorpe’s falsetto swoons in now familiar flights, the titular lament the sound of an overgrown colt who, despite years of training, still wishes he had full control of his organ.
Smother’s philosophy seems caught up in this track. The fact that lust remains even as the temperature’s cooled suggests that Wild Beasts have realised life holds enough jarring moments of its own to keep a young man interested. “Oh, don’t you think,” sings Thorpe, on the furtive and balm-fraught ‘Loop The Loop’, “that people are the strangest things. Design of desire, is all that the heart requires.” When later he admits, resigned, that he’s “made enough enemies”, it’s clear that these are the words of a man who’s lost all trust in his libido.
And thank fuck for that. A loyal libido makes for Marti Pellow, Mario Winans, middle-age and mediocrity. It makes for shitty albums. Smother is a marvel, made by men who seem to have realised that the tail they’ve been chasing all these years is their own.
On and on the pursuit goes, though. On ‘Plaything’ Thorpe wills a dropped chemise, while fellow lead vocalist Tom Fleming — who’s always seemed the more romantically reliable of the Beasts’ wailing pair — curses the breaking of a relationship that renders him see-through on ‘Invisible’. She saw right through you and your motives, Fleming, and that’s what comes from not keeping your cock in the right place.
Motives are a big part of what Wild Beasts do, and it’s a big part of what they are. There’s a playful psychology to their music that has always kept me rapt, and tracking the progression of their psyche across the span of three albums has been incredibly pleasurable. Anyone thinking that the shift in gear — from The Smiths and Orange Juice to The Field and, on ‘Burning’, Dan Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never — results in less of that pleasure doesn’t understand what makes this band so special.
Theirs is a love of the underneath and their songs should be seen as windows into pits of soul and psyche as much as they shed light on stinkier zones underarm and by groin. If Limbo, Panto and 2009’s Two Dancers thrilled with their stolen glances, Smother is a record that seems to relish the panoramic view it has inside itself as much as it wants to look in your clothes. Kev Kharas