Over the past four years, Wild Beasts have gained a reputation for dividing listeners. Some find the U.K. bandâ€™s occasional tendency for over-emotive rock/pop theatrics to be grating- I assume this is a fair opinion. Others, however, are enthralled byâ€¦ well, their occasional tendency for over-emotive rock/pop theatrics. One thing is certain- Wild Beasts are a sensational group of musicians with a fine ear for song structure at the sake of catchiness. They are no novelty act. Iâ€™m not sure if this misconception is something that bothered the band, but their new album is a definitive response all the same. With Smother, Wild Beasts finally comes into its own.
Shedding what some considered to be pompous histrionics (anyone who doesnâ€™t think Two Dancers rocked though has problems with things that sound good), Hayden Thorpe and company opt for a more restrained approach on Smother. This is evident right from the start on opening track, â€œLionerâ€™s Shareâ€, a gentle piano ballad with a faint electronic beat. â€œShareâ€ winds its way along for several minutes, all the while threatening to explode in traditional Wild Beasts fashion. The anticipation is understandable. After all, the song screams to become a rousing, danceable opener where the band can empty their bag of tricks, leaving the listener in an auditory haze before abruptly starting anew. Yet the song never punches through and instead of frustration, we feel tantalized. The fact that it never does is more rewarding than the non-existent climax itself. By the conclusion of â€œBed of Nailsâ€, it becomes clear to the listener that Smother is prominently featuring Thorpeâ€™s trademark vocals as an instrument- even more than usual. This works in the bandâ€™s favor, especially when taken into account that the aforementioned tantalization becomes a running theme on Smother. Tunes like â€œLoop the Loopâ€ work more effectively with Thrope slinking through them with a teasing falsetto. As the album progresses, the tone more so encourages sporadic shoulder-twitching than a dancefloor rockout. This is a tight, intimate album from a band whose previous accomplishments all seemingly referenced flair in some way, shape, or form. The Smother of the title may indeed be referencing what those sounds and expectations have done to the band- but it also may indicate what Wild Beasts would like to do to the sound itself. The chord and drum arrangements still have that seamless Roxy Music-esque glide from prior LPs, but here things sound more calculated and efficient. Additionally, since itâ€™s more of a vocal showcase than ever before, Thorpe sounds appropriately incredible with subtle nods to Robert Smith (â€œBurningâ€), Matt Bellamy (â€œPlaythingâ€), and Morrisey (â€œReach a Bit Furtherâ€). These similarities are fleeting, however- Smother never feels anything less than an independent product. The album ends with the heartwrenching â€œEnd Come Too Soonâ€- an almost eight minute existential opus that would have felt right at home on The Antlersâ€™ Hospice album. â€œItâ€™s too soon, too soon, too soon, the end comes too soon,â€ pleads Thorpe as â€œSoonâ€ drifts away. Suddenly, Wild Beasts are capable of tragedy. But Iâ€™m sure if you asked them, they would insist they always were.