The Wombats don’t quite satisfy with return to rock roots
Molly Chen | Wednesday, February 21, 2018
The Wombats have been building up anticipation for new music since November of last year, releasing singles and dropping hints at a full-length album in the works. On Feb. 9 the wait came to an an end, and the Liverpool trio released their fourth album “Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life” after three years in the works. Despite the high praise that fan favorite third album, “Glitterbug,” received in 2015, the band decided to look toward their first album for inspiration with more emphasis on guitar in “Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life.” For the most part, it’s lacking the layered, energetic synthesizers that epitomized most of “Glitterbug,” which was partially the group’s objective.
“It’s easy to go to synths when we’ve been doing that for the last couple of albums,” drummer Dan Haggis told me before the band’s soldout show at Legends of Notre Dame earlier this semester.
Bassist Tord Overland Knudsen agreed, “The whole idea was maybe to keep it a little bit simpler and in a way look towards our first album … Although it doesn’t sound like that maybe … but the aim was maybe [to] go a little bit back to … the three-piece and a bit more.”
The four early releases off of the album saw positive responses, even better than the band expected, Knudsen said.
“It’s been great,” Haggis agreed. “Lots of people on Twitter and Instagram [were] saying like, ‘Oh if the album’s anything like these then I think we’re in for a treat.’”
These singles undoubtedly showed promise for the rest of the record. “Lemon To a Knife Fight,” is a catchy, dynamic and intense song that lead singer and guitarist Matthew “Murph” Murphy wrote following an argument with his wife, a backstory that shows through. “Cheetah Tongue” follows, a guitar-heavy, immediate hit. With catchy riffs, tight rhythms and quintessential metaphors, it’s one of the most stand-out tracks on the album.
“I like the way your brain works,” sings Murphy in “Turn,” a nostalgic track reminiscent of the group’s previous releases. The Wombats follow up with “Black Flamingo.” The rhythmic tune’s strengths lie in the repeating guitar riff and charming vocal harmonies. Although Murphy’s metaphors are endearing as ever in other tracks, some of the lyrics in “Black Flamingo” begin to lean slightly toward cheesy. The song ends with the same riff that starts the track off, but is a little more intense, building up before cutting off completely.
In my first listen through the entire album, these four tracks definitely built up some excitement. Unfortunately, the fifth song is where my interest began to falter. “White Eyes” sounds familiar off the bat, but almost to a fault. The song features Murphy’s vocals well, but overall is arguably the most replaceable song on the entire record.
“It’s not the most Wombats-like sounding thing, it does sound a bit different maybe,” Knudsen said about “Lethal Combination,” and this is undeniable. The shortest track on the album, “Lethal Combination,” sounds very different from anything The Wombats have done. A short but sweet, upbeat pop song, it serves well as an intermission. Following is “Out of My Head,” one of the album’s stronger songs, despite being lyrically redundant. “I Only Wear Black” plays on ironic contradictions — pairing an uptempo beat, uplifting piano and handclaps with pessimistic lyrics like “sometimes you win but generally you lose.” Despite being somewhat vocally monotonous at times — which is unfortunate, as Murphy’s range is fairly impressive — it’s a difficult song to not move to.
“Ice Cream” is the most initially promising and subsequently disappointing song on the album. It takes off with a catchy bassline but loses steam at the repetitive and somewhat cheesy chorus as Murphy sings “melting like an ice cream in the sun” — it’s overall skippable, but The Wombats quickly begin to redeem themselves with the penultimate track “Dip You in Honey,” a quirky, endearing love song. With unique keyboards, emphasized guitar and interesting layered vocals, its only downfall is the redundancy of the line “I just wanna dip you in honey.”
“Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life” wraps up with one of the album’s best tracks “I Don’t Know Why I Like You but I Do,” a favorite among fans and the band members themselves, both for its uniqueness and its origins.
“It was a pretty cool experience,” Knudsen said, explaining his excitement about the track prior to its release. “We started with nothing and within three days we had this finished song.”
“Yeah, I just really love it,” Haggis agreed. “It feels a bit dreamier … there’s this little weird — almost Beatles-ey — section and there’s a bit of like, almost a bit more Radiohead-ey, or that’s what we were going for.”
The song is definitely dreamy, playing with immersive layers of both plucked and slurred strings, and the distinct sections that Haggis mentioned are beautifully clear. Ultimately refreshing and atmospheric, it’s a necessary ending to an overall slightly less-than-invigorating 40 minutes, with lyrics that plainly lay out a thought that nearly everyone has had at some point — “I don’t know why I like you, but I do.”
The Wombats have definitely matured in the 15 years they’ve been together, and “Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life” reflects that. With Murphy living in Los Angeles, Haggis in London and Knudsen taking care of his new baby in Oslo, Norway, The Wombats’ ability to come together and create something this fun is impressive. It’s an overall solid album, but still — coming from a historically better-than-solid-band, the record as a whole doesn’t live up to expectations. Its strong start and refreshing finish show the band successfully returning to their rock roots. Still, many of the songs in between pale in comparison, feeling predictable in a way The Wombats have never been and lacking the same feel-good energy that “Glitterbug” left us with. Their debut album was packed with quirky narratives, while their second and third albums simply moved more musically. On its own, “Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life” is a good album, but when compared to the crowd-pleasing, award-winning hits that The Wombats have put out in the past, it’s difficult not to be somewhat dissatisfied. If you’re already a fan of The Wombats, give it a listen. If not, maybe start with one of the other three.
Artist: The Wombats
Album: Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life
Label: 14th Floor Records
Favorite Track: “Turn,” “I Don’t Know Why I Like You but I Do”
If You Like: Two Door Cinema Club, Vampire Weekend
Shamrocks: 3 out of 5