My affection for 2017’s Visions of a Life is no secret – it blew me away at the time and remains one of my favourite rock records of the decade. I wasn’t sure what to expect next from Wolf Alice. The band draw influence from such a wide range of music that they could have moved in any direction and it wouldn’t have surprised me. So many of us cherish Radiohead because of the way they have altered their sound throughout the years, and I firmly believe Wolf Alice have the same set of skills in that regard.
The release of lead single “The Last Man on Earth” certainly piqued interest. To my knowledge it was the the first time Wolf Alice had tackled a piano ballad, and boy did they do it in suitably dramatic style. The Electric Light Orchestra-inspired breakdown was even more of a surprise, particularly the graceful constraint of the performances. It still felt huge, but more careful and considered. However, the song turned out to be a slight red herring.
Blue Weekend is not a radical departure from the formula of previous albums. Instead, Wolf Alice continue to explore the same range of sounds with a new degree of euphoric confidence. The youthful charm of My Love Is Cool is now very much a thing of the past. As guitarist Joff Oddie admits they’ve ‘become songwriting adults.’ At first, I was slightly disappointed with the fact that they weren’t looking to reinvent themselves, but the band have proved that this is a blueprint worth sticking to for a while longer. Until another band channels ’90s alternative rock with such success, why should Wolf Alice stop? It may not blow me away like their last release, but Blue Weekend is still a fabulous record.
That’s not to say there aren’t improvements. Ellie Rowsell’s vocal performances are more passionate and self-assured than ever. There’s a real swagger to her delivery on “Smile”. The arrangements, too, are more expansive, with “The Last Man on Earth” and “How Can I Make it OK?” being particular highlights in that regard. Elsewhere, joyous punk rager “Play The Greatest Hits” is essentially a better version of “Yuk Foo”, which was always the one track on Visions that I wasn’t totally enamoured with.
Whilst I don’t think there’s a song on Blue Weekend that reaches the same heights as “Don’t Delete The Kisses” or “Visions of a Life”, there are isolated moments that I cannot get enough of. The huge wall of noise at the end of “Feeling Myself” is one such occasion, combining dream pop and shoegaze in such a way that makes me crave an entire record of it, not helped by the My Bloody Valentine-inspired dynamics of closing track, “The Beach II”. Of all the different directions that Wolf Alice take, it’s this ethereal noise-ridden one that I most adore. It’s like Slowdive and Muse combined.
As I write this, the news breaks that Wolf Alice finally have their first UK no.1 album. Blue Weekend has been met with critical acclaim, and it seems likely this is the record that propels the band to stardom. I couldn’t be happier for them. A band who toured tirelessly in the grassroots music sector, gaining adoring followers across the country, developing their sound and emotionally maturing along the way, they now find themselves with the world at their feet. Instead of pondering where they could go next, I’m going to continue enjoying the hell out of the music Wolf Alice have given us so far. Whatever comes next, I’ll be ready.
8 out of 10
Wolf Alice are back, baby, and if not better than ever exactly then still terrific in surprising new ways. We adored Visions of a Life back in 2017 and could not wait to hear what was next for them. It turns out what was next was synth-pop and power ballads and intense bursts of electronica. And another two-minute punk rock number, of course.
Visions fundamentally felt like a rock record. There was a smattering of everything - as is Wolf Alice’s way - but the sum total was something quite wiry and hard-edged. Blue Weekend is an altogether looser, more mystical thing, like the band came apart and sewed itself back together with shimmering gold thread.
Much is familiar. Ellie Rowsell’s customary drift between spoken-word musings and operatic soarings is alive and well, and the band as a whole is as simpatico as ever - if not moreso. Their gifts are just in service of gentler shapes this time around. The delicious synth haze of “How Can I Make It OK?” is reminiscent of Kate Bush, while the ice cold and cavernous “Feeling Myself” listens like Kid A-era Radiohead of all things. It’s bold, often brilliant songwriting.
For me the pieces don’t fit together quite as miraculously as they do on Visions, though the more I listen the more I think that boils down to preference. This will be a lot of people’s favourite Wolf Alice album and I don’t blame them one jot. If there was any doubt before, Blue Weekend cements their status as the best band in England.
8 out of 10
When Wolf Alice released their debut all three of us looked forward to exciting things in the band’s future. Here in the future, with a third album under their belt, I can’t say I’m disappointed.
Primed by lead single, “The Last Man on Earth”, it felt as though this album was striving for a bigger, bolder sound. The track sits in the middle of the pack, with the snarly, noisy, gritty fuzz of “Smile” and the woozy haze across “Delicious Things” pushing their way to the top of my favourites.
The band stretches out throughout the tracklist, comfortable with the sound they’ve carved for themselves. Folky fingerpicking slides into ’70s-leaning “How Can I Make It OK?”, which in turn sits next to a noisy, punky surge of sound. In each case, the band pull it off, with drummer Joel Amey turning his hand to the counter vocal in “Safe from Heartbreak” and returning to pummel the drumline in “Play The Greatest Hits”. Ellie Rowsell’s vocals expand in a similar way, playing with delivery to make lyrics dance, tiptoe, or glide their way across tracks with a poetic, familiar lilt.
With each listen, a recurring thought is how great this material will sound live. The band has a knack for letting an instrumental ride out a track. Guitar soars to meet strings rounding out “Delicious Things”, while “Feeling Myself” erupts into a climax of sound in its final moments. These are likely room-filling moments in a live setting and I’m excited for them to tour with this tracklist in the mix.
While their debut rocked, and Visions of A Life had shining highlights, Blue Weekend sits most comfortably with me. With a slightly heavier undertone of fizzy electronic sounds and a wider gamut of styles, the album brings cracking quality, even if it doesn’t have the standout tracks of the previous record. Despite the hefty competition for amazing music we’ve seen in 2021, this album feels like it’ll stick around for end of year lists and beyond.
9 out of 10