Will Gompertz reviews Wolf Alice’s Mercury Prize-winning album ★★★★☆
Congratulations to Wolf Alice on winning this year’s Mercury Prize.
The London four-piece band picked up the £25,000 winners’ cheque for their 2017 album, Visions of A Life, which will be familiar to their fans and pop music aficionados (it reached No 2 in the charts) but probably less so to others.
Any which way, it is well worth a listen.
The Mercury Prize judges have chosen an album that is adventurous in regards to the band’s own sonic development but not exactly avant-garde in terms of pop music.
Wolf Alice are purveyors of classic indie pop but with the added twist of being refreshingly willing to test their musical boundaries.
Visions of A Life is like one of those Robert Rauschenberg collages that are constructed out of bits and pieces he’d picked up along the way. It seems to be all over the place at first: a mixtape from a band that hasn’t made up its mind as to who or what it is. But then, gradually, it resolves into a coherent design with a heart and soul.
It opens with Heavenward, a grungy track about death in which lead singer Ellie Rowsell channels a young Thom Yorke. It is followed by the shouty Yuk Foo, in which the band make an unconvincing stab at being punks.
The third track, Beautifully Unconventional, is different again: a catchy tune that harks back to the late-70s, early-80s scene and the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees.
The Mercury Prize judges described the album as “an exuberant tapestry of swirling pop, grunge and indie guitar rock”.
Fair enough, not much to argue with there.
Except, there’s a word missing.
As you make your way through the album, and listen to track after track, each and every one making you think, “That’s a bit like such-and-such artist…,” you start to wonder what is distinctive about Wolf Alice?
What is their sound?
It’s not immediately obvious. There’s a heaviness and speed that they create around their songs, which gives them a brooding storminess upon which Rowsell’s ethereal voice rises and falls on a sea of driving guitars and pulsating baselines.
There are tracks, such as Don’t Delete the Kisses and St. Purple & Green, where the combination of rock, pop, and lyrical poetry come together to create a genuinely soulful, gothic landscape. This is their sound. But without that missing word, which is…
It is how the band started out with Ellie Rowsell and Joff Oddie playing clubs and bars around north London as an acoustic duo with a Laura Marling-type vibe. They expanded to become a four piece with the intention of being faster and noisier, which they have done, but the folkiness remains, albeit buried deep within an indie wall of sound.
Folk is the grit in the Wolf Alice oyster – it agitates and irritates and rubs up against the band’s indie rock public image, but ultimately leads to the creation of some beautifully formed musical pearls.
Visions of A Life is the band’s second studio album. Their first, My Love is Cool, was very good, and that – as we know – often leads to a tricky second. Not so in this case. Visions of A Life is better, from its eight-minute long title track to the hauntingly melancholic After The Zero Hour.
The band’s experimentation necessarily means not every idea hits the bullseye, but Wolf Alice have established themselves as artists of rare quality who have already made their mark.
My guess is the third album will be better still, with more surprises, more avenues explored, which will lead to an even more “exuberant tapestry of swirling pop, grunge and indie guitar rock”. And folk.
4.”Don’t Delete the Kisses”
8.”Space & Time”
10.”St. Purple & Green”
11.”After the Zero Hour”
12.”Visions of a Life”
News credit : Bbc