Wild Beasts were one of the most innovative indie bands around – and they’ll be sorely missed.
It’s been over a couple of weeks since the announcement, but the fact that Wild Beasts are set to disband still hasn’t quite sunk in for me yet. The reasoning behind the split is understandable; in a statement posted on their Twitter page, the band explained that
alongside personal reasons, they’re “caretakers to something precious and don’t want to have it diminish as we move forward in our lives.” At the same time however, I can’t help but feel saddened that one of the most innovative indie bands of our time will soon be no longer.
I can remember listening to Two Dancers for the first time when I was 15 years old, two years after its release. My music taste revolved around more conventional indie fare back then, so naturally, it was an album my teenage brain couldn’t quite comprehend to begin with, but its brilliance revealed itself to me the more I revisited it. I was completely awestruck by Hayden Thorpe’s flamboyant, theatrical falsetto, which served as the perfect complement to Tom Fleming’s more grounded but no less captivating baritone. The duo’s vocals, combined with lush, atmospheric guitars and a strong rhythm section that masterfully propelled each song, resulted in a sound that was worlds apart from the likes of The Courteeners and The Vaccines, and the album rightfully earned the band a Mercury Prize nomination. It was indie music, but it was more sophisticated than anything I’d listened to before.
Right from the get-go, it was obvious that Wild Beasts weren’t your typical indie band. Armed with quirky song titles such as Vigil for a Fuddy Duddy and Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants, debut album Limbo, Panto bristled with youthful vigour and extravagant flair, with Thorpe fully embracing his inner Kate Bush. It was a bizarre, artful record, and one that was at odds with the guitar music landscape at the time, but that only made it an even more rewarding and exciting listen. Two Dancers saw them tone down their eccentricities somewhat, but songs like All the King’s Men and We’ve Still Got the Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues maintained a sense of fun, and like their first record, was chock full of fantastically sordid sexual imagery.
Sexuality and hyper-masculinity have always been joined at the hip with rock music, but nobody handled these themes with as much wit or grace as Wild Beasts did. Emerging during a period where guitar bands had become practically synonymous with lad culture, they somehow managed to sing about lust and escapades between the sheets without ever coming across as lewd or crass like their contemporaries (I can’t imagine Liam Gallagher singing the line “Trousers and blouses make excellent sheets down dimly lit streets” and getting away with it). Fleming once confessed in an interview that they were “openly obsessed with sex”, and even though their sound changed with each record, it was a facet of the band that remained constant throughout the years.
Their willingness to evolve is perhaps the primary reason why I hold them so dear to my heart. Third album, Smother, smacked of regret and pain amidst the lust and desire, and was filled with moments of unadulterated beauty, in particular Loop the Loop, with its delicate arpeggiated guitar line and Thorpe’s anguished cries of “How many must I forget now?”. The band ditched the guitars (for the most part) on Present Tense, which forayed into synth-pop territory, while their infatuation with machismo outright manifested itself on Boy King, which was characterised by sleazy grooves and a swagger not present on their previous records. While their later material may have been guilty of lacking the danger or freshness of their early work, they were always looking to take their sound to new places and were never content to slip into some kind of comfort zone. The question of ‘what if?’ will always linger, and I feel that the band had plenty of mileage in them creatively, but by splitting, they’ve made sure that their legacy will go untarnished. Goodbye Wild Beasts, you’ll be sorely missed.