After Limbo, Panto, put them in the unenviable position of having to follow up an idiosyncratic, theatrical and, let’s face it, weird debut album, the members of Wild Beasts did maybe the only thing they could: They got serious. The band’s sophomore album, Two Dancers, doesn’t have any loose-limbed dancing tracks (like “Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants”) or songs about buying fries for an old dude (like “Please Sir”). It is even more melodramatic -- every song here has serious weight, even when they feature lines like “This is a booty call/ My boot, your arsehole” and sound like a post-punk opera -- but it is still every bit as wonderful.
It’s tempting to call Two Dancers an expectation-dodger following Limbo, Panto, but Wild Beasts live in a land where making songs that sound like soundtrack cuts from an off Broadway-play isn’t weird; it’s how songs are supposed to sound. It’s impossible to have expectations around these chaps. They’ll just destroy them anyway.
Two Dancers launches with its three best tracks: the glistening “The Fun Powder Plot,” the Spartan and affecting “Hooting & Howling,” and jovial album highlight, “All the Kings Men.” All three broach the typical lyrical themes of Wild Beasts oeuvre, namely that these dudes think about chicks a lot, about getting in rows and partying a bit, and about chicks a lot. It’s possible that some of the group’s lyrics -- like the “Girls who’ll feed me, girls who want me, girls who need me” wish of “All the Kings Men” -- might come off as slightly misogynistic, but they are more about being hopeful that one day the band will be tough or cool enough to land all the women, not that they already have them waiting in the hotel room. Half their songs are just about kissing and making out, and even those come off as wishful thinking, and that covers Two Dancers in a lovelorn and wistful gloss. As singer Hayden Thorpe says on “Hooting & Howling”: For now, they’re just brutes who are in cahoots, looking to fight off anyone who thinks they’re better than them.
It's hard to take the lyrics too seriously when Thorpe, who has maybe the best set of pipes in indie rock today, delivers them. His voice seems too classical to be singing about what he sings about here, but he makes the most of it. He can make Antony look like he’s being lazy: on “We Still Got the Taste Dancing on Our Tongues,” he can jump between a clarion-bell falsetto, a scratchy baritone, and a wistful middle tone. His howls and guttural moans of “watch me” on “All the Kings Men” provides a great counterbalance to bassist Tom Fleming’s brassier low register, and his ability to sound like he’s singing in caps on “This is Our Lot” lends its starry tale of dancing under the moon a sense of urgency. Fleming gets more to do on Two Dancers, singing four of 10 songs (including the two part title track), but even he’d have to concede this is Thorpe’s show.
Like the cover of Two Dancers, Wild Beasts’ music is a malleable entity, allowing you to decide what you want to see or hear. Whether that’s supposed to be vaguely explicit, indefinable, artistic or incredible, it’s never quite clear. That’s what sets Wild Beasts, and Two Dancers, apart: Instead of spoon-feeding you how you’re supposed to react, they challenge you to understand them. And if you don’t, they’re not going to change.
Fact: Wild Beasts are the weirdest band from the U.K. these days. The Kendal group's excellent debut, Limbo, Panto, had no clear antecedents, and had incredible moments of brilliance ("Devil's Crayon" comes to mind), which is more than you can say for about 96 percent of British bands currently dominating Radio 1 (or American bands dominating CMJ for that matter).
Fact: Wild Beasts' sophomore album, Two Dancers, is just as weird, but it has a clear antecedent: Limbo, Panto. But where there used to be elastic guitars buoyed by Hayden Thorpe's Broadway-quality voice, instead there are somber ballads like "Hooting and Howling" that are buoyed by Hayden Thorpe's Broadway-quality vocals. It doesn't seem like much of a change, but it is. Limbo, Panto was incredibly self-assured, so don't expect Two Dancers to be a sophomore slump.
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