It’s a Spotify party playlist music for people who like to rock out alone between depression naps.
Usually, for a band to survive in today’s savage marketplace, where there’s always something new to consume, that band has to adapt to changing trends and evolve in some fashion. But over the course of a decade, The Wombats have stayed largely the same. That should be a little sad, but given the evergreen nature of their big, bold hooks and clever lyrics, it’s more remarkable that their staying the course has translated to steady Q rating increases.
Their last album,2015’s Glitterbug, flirted with maturing their sound, but their latest, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, is only discernible from their 2007 debut for its brevity, restraint and musicianship. They’re sticking with a tried and true formula, but their swords are as sharpened as ever, resulting in a brisk, lively album full of reliable dance rock tunes and quotable asides about relationships, nostalgia and self-destructive party habits.
A typical Wombats song is based around one halfway charming idea, executed so strongly it’s impossible not to sing along to. It could be how similar the words “cheater” and “cheetah” are (“Cheetah Tongue”) or how alcoholic codependency is a less depressing concept when it opens like a Phil Spector song (“Lethal Combination”), but it’s always just substantive enough to hang a hook on and ride the half-time chorus off into the sunset. That ability to transform the profoundly sad into confectionery bliss means that guys in their 30s singing about the same shit they did in their 20s can entertaining without dodging the obviously disquieting implications of stunted male psychology.
Frontman Matthew Murphy’s lyrics have long felt like the bronze medal to Alex Turner and Eddie Argos’ gold and silver, but it’s Murphy’s peculiar ability to be simultaneously vulnerable and brash that keeps them from merely being a quirky, budget knockoff of early Arctic Monkeys and Art Brut. He’s sung so confidently about faking it til you make it for so long that he’s become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. That he’s part of a versatile three-piece who’ve stuck together for fifteen years and work as a well-oiled unit is a big help.
Rather than drastically altering their styles, the lads nimbly fool around at the outer edges of their wheelhouse. Dan Haggis’ ferocious percussion keeps things lively, while Tord Øverland Knudsen’s bass and keyboard work find new and indelible grooves to graft Murphy’s navel gazing pop art to. On a song like “White Eyes,” the vocal sample and bassline make the band sound like a throwback to ‘90s trip hop, but on “Out of My Head,” they’re a swoon-worthy swagger to reverb throb of the verses that artfully undercuts Murphy’s self-flagellation. They get to be a straightforward rock outfit producing hook-y jams for the masses, while still penning tunes that are drawn from an honest place.
It’s a Spotify party playlist music for people who like to rock out alone between depression naps. No wonder they haven’t gone out of style.