Before I discuss the new Wolf Alice album, I would like to discuss mixtapes.
There is an art to creating a mixtape, it is simpler than just throwing a bunch of random songs together and hoping for the best. There are different rules for different genres, having the sense not to all the great tunes at the beginning so you hear them first, picking the correct title – these are things that you learn over time via trial and error.
As someone who grew up making cassette mix tapes, this is something I learnt over time, something that I still work at. It is a science for music geeks and one that you do not mess about with. So, what has this got to do with Visions of a Life? Well, I will get to that later.
Wolf Alice have return with their second studio album, following up from the above average, but full of potential that was My Love is Cool. Since releasing that Mercury Music Prize nominated record, their fan base has grown and has been waiting with bated breath. It has been quite for a little while, the only real activity coming when “Silk” from My Love is Cool was used to great effect on the film T2 Trainspotting 2, a song which can make me weep as it was used so well.
On my review for ATTIWLTMOWOS I said My Love is Cool was a decent album, but not one I loved.
At that point Wolf Alice were getting a lot of shite from hipsters for being the next big thing.
It was a rough diamond, it showed that they were not the real deal, but there was something interesting on that album. Visions of a Life finds Wolf Alice working with in demand producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (NIN, Paramore, M83, Tegan & Sara). The expectation surrounding this album has reached a high pitch, so there has also been an inevitable wall of sound that comes with such a release. There is a mixture of lust and anger, fear and venom, pain, and pleasure from all quarters, with fans and haters bitching in an endless cycle of feuding.
Well, now it is my time to join in the arguement……and I am so disappointed with Visions of a Life.
It starts off well enough, the shoegazing lunacy of “Heavenward” is delightful, but from there on in the fluidity of the album goes south with terminal velocity. “Yuk Foo” sounds like a poor version of Le Butcherettes having a tantrum, “Beautifully Unconventional” is a rehearsal outtake that should have stayed there and “Don’t Delete Kisses” is awaiting to be used for a commercial that needs an atmospheric interlude.
Next “Planet Hunter” is aiming to be mysterious as Kate Bush and Rush, but it falls short of this lofty aim, “Sky Musing” is another teenage rant that needs to have a different vocal style (not vocalist, Ellie Rowsell has a fine voice, but it is not used correctly here), “Formidable Cool” is neither one thing or another – sadly a little too bland.
Following this we have “Space & Time”, the song I like least on the record, “Sad Boy” which is decent enough, but wasted on this (same as “Heavenward”), “St. Purple & Green” is another stab at the current shoegazing style which is back in vogue. Ending the record is “After The Zero Hour” which is out of synch with everything on the album, it sound like an All About Eve outtake and it just adds to the bizzare feeling of the record.
So, what has Visions of a Life got to do with mixtapes?
When you create a mixtape, you want it to sound good and the same is true with an album. This album sounds like a mixtape made from a selection of your parents’ collection, complied of all the worst tracks you could find in a random order. It is akin to a beginner’s tape, with little to no thought seemingly being put into the final outcome of the record.
Wolf Alice, who are on a small label (Dirty Hit) which is distributed by the Universal Music Group (so, even though it is an indie, still technically a major – lets not kid ourselves here) should know better than this, as should their people in the background. How did this get past the editing? How did they think these were the right tracks? This album is trying to please everyone, which means it will be a hit. But it is not the second coming that people are saying it is, it is just a disappointing record.
This is an indefensible record – to paraphrase Monty Python – it is not the messiah, it is a very naughty album (and not in a good way). Wolf Alice are better than this, so I am not writing them off yet. They can (and hopefully will) do better and prove me wrong, but I cannot hide my disappointment.
I still believe in Wolf Alice, any band that can make me cry with a song have something special, so to write them off would be foolish. I didn’t write this article to be cool and I expect some whiplash, but I am not going to say Visions of a Life is great when it is clearly a new version of the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes. The mark below is done with hope and sadness.
Rating: 1/5 – Wolf Alice you are better than this.
Top track – “Heavenwards”