“Shocked, delighted and disgusted” is how frontman Hayden Thorpe described reactions so far to their ‘Boy King’ tour. With their fifth album to date, released in the UK on 5th August, Wild Beasts change course yet again, with an angrier, more 80s sound with lots of synthesisers. A concept album dealing with the self-destructive effects of modern-day masculinity, it was recorded with producer John Congleton, who has previously worked with St. Vincent and Swans. This departure from the emotive, heartfelt ballads found on previous album ‘Present Tense’, may explain the wide ranging reception from fans. As bassist Tom Fleming put it, “The last record was made up of love songs. This one is all f**k songs.”
In a stuffy theatre at The Old Market, the stage set up with three long lighting panels either side of the stage and the creepy dark face with red eyes and lips from the album cover as a backdrop, the four band members walked on, each with a guitar and synthesiser, except the drummer. Kicking off with new single ‘Get My Bang’ with its heavy bassline and exploration of sexual alter egos, Thorpe’s note perfect voice took on a gruffer tone. Swigging red wine between songs, Thorpe then launched into another new track ‘Big Cat’, the words flashing intermittently on the lighting panels, while repeating the lyrics “Big cat, top of the food chain” in his inimitable falsetto.
The new tracks were received with mild enthusiasm by the mixed age crowd; somewhat inevitable given people may not yet be familiar with the material. However, ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’ and ‘Daughters’ from ‘Present Tense’ definitely got a warmer reception and gave Fleming a chance to show off his lovely baritone vocals. Drenched in sweat, Thorpe told the audience he was going to play some older stuff from a time when he didn’t “sweat profusely on stage” and by the time they got to ‘Hooting And Howling’ from 2009 album ‘Two Dancers’, several members of the audience were moshing wildly in front of the stage and nearly everyone was singing along.
Mellowing the atmosphere with a beautiful rendering of ‘Mecca’, they then finished with new, gender busting song ‘Alpha Female’ with Thorpe proclaiming “alpha female, I’m right behind you” – the Beasts at their playfully clever, songwriting best. Returning for an encore with the hauntingly fragile ‘Wanderlust’, where Thorpe cautions “Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck,” the band closed with the otherworldly ‘Celestial Creatures’ from ‘Boy King’, expounding the mantra “These are messy times that we’re living in / Down here on Earth all is forgiven”; particularly poignant given the current political climate.
The overall performance was fairly faultless, but somehow didn’t connect as much as one might have hoped. While ‘Boy King’ may not be to everyone’s taste, diehard fans will appreciate Wild Beasts are evolving their sound and experimenting with new ideas. Only time will tell if the album is a critical success or not.