If there are two bands that I both admire but would never before associate with one another, then its Wild Beasts and Depeche Mode. The fourth album from indie rock quartet from Kendal, however, reminds me of Martin L. Gore and associates one more than one occasion. At the most superficial level, this association is fueled by increased use of syntesizers on Present Tense. The change in instrumentation also led to a darker and more ominous sound. The manic lead single Wanderlust is the most striking example hereof. There are some lightsome explanations of the term wanderlust but ‘the desire to escape and leave behind depressive feelings of guilt’ is the one that best fits the mood of the song and the accompanying video. An unyielding snare drum on the frontbeat (if that is the opposite of backbeat) creates a haunting sensation that’s emphasised in the album’s opening line ‘We’re decadent beyond our means, with a zeal’. The only problem with Wanderlust is that it makes the rest of the new album feel a bit tame and lacking suspense.
Until now, I welcomed increasing role of Tom Flemming as lead vocalist in Wild Beasts, because a whole album of Hayden Thorpe would be too much of a good thing. On Present Tense the vocal duties are almost equally divided between the two lead singers and I notice that during the songs sung by Flemming I regularly lose my attention. Thorpe can be painfully intense, but with Flemming on lead vocals Wild Beasts are always at risk of sounding like a regular band. It’s when both singers accentuate each other in duet that the result is most unexpected. The exciting dynamism between them on songs like Sweet Spot, Daughters and A Simple Beautiful Truth is another, less conspicuous attribute, of Present Tense that makes me think of Depeche Mode. Even the title of the last song is a typical Gore-ism.
As innovative as their records are so traditional and sober are Wild Beasts’ live shows. No smoke machine, no impressive light show or charming banter, it’s about the music and only that. It partly explains why the Mercury prize nominees, after having released four celebrated albums, still haven’t grown beyond size the Melkweg’s Oude Zaal. It suites me fine. I can’t think of a better environment in order to preserve the intimacy of the band’s records. Compared to their short performance during Eurosonic in January Wild Beast sound sharper and more balanced. Almost the entire new album is in the set list, but most of the usual suspects like Hooting & Howling and All The King’s Men also make an appearance. When Wild Beasts toured Smother (2011) the stage set up emphasised the dual frontmanship of Thorpe and Flemming, their keyboards back-to-back at the centre of the stage. whether it is symbolic or not, for the current tour Thorpe and Flemming are positioned with a clear distance between them, each claiming his individual spot at the front of the stage. The effect is that Wild Beast come across as a collective of four equally gifted musicians, more even than they did before.
Now that Present Tense has had some time to ripen, some brand new crowd-pleasers manifest themselves. Pregnant Pause is a moving Kate Bush-style piano ballad, on which Thorpe out does himself. A Dog’s Life is a majestic piece of cold wave, echoing the sound of Depeche Mode in the 90s, including Goresque guitar picking. The aforementioned Wanderlust and A Simple Beautiful Truth are also new highlights in Wild Beats live oeuvre. Contrary to the concert, which ends in the now familiar apotheosis of End Come Too Soon, the album kind of tails of toward the end. Past Perfect still has a nice cadence, which is strongly reminiscent of The Blue Nile, but New Life (a reference to Depeche?) is more bombast than song. Closing song Palace sports the most unambiguous retro-synth of the whole album, but collapses under the weight of its own melodrama. The extended version of the album contains two remixes of Wanderlust, one by Factory Floor and one by The Field. Both of which are totally superfluous and misplaced, like almost every remix I’ve ever heard of any single by Depeche Mode. Uncanny.