Wolf Alice’s new album, Visions of A Life, shares a heavy lineage with Wolf Alice’s previous discography. Like their debut, My Love is Cool, the album varies wildly in tone, genre-hopping from one style of rock to another, sometimes on back-to-back tracks. When done properly, this style can make for an interesting grab-bag of material, which was in fact the case for most of My Love is Cool. Wolf Alice’s debut came packed with hook-filled pop-rock jingles that carried the band around the festival circuit and earned them well-deserved praise from a myriad of music publications (The Indiependent included). With Visions, however, Wolf Alice unfortunately is unable to carry that same punch from their debut. In it’s place, they’ve granted us a series of lifeless, lazily structured songs, that drift from track to track with little regard for a cohesive sound.
The most prominent issue with this album, and the most troubling for the band’s future, is that much of Visions feels sparse. Several songs on the album, like the opener ‘Heavenward’, are so bathed in reverb and effects that it becomes difficult to work out individual instruments. It’s as if at points the producers and engineers of Visions aimed exclusively to make the album sound as polished and washed out as possible. ‘Formidable Cool’, like many songs off of Visions, carries itself on a flimsy guitar lead that repeats ad nauseam. The instrumental is remarkably thin, the vocals are more spoken then sang, and the lyrics are wholly unremarkable. The effects and production on this track give it a twangy, arena-sized vibe, which does not fit the actual substance of the song. This is the case throughout much of what Visions offers up. Never has an album aimed for such stadium-filling highs, while falling to such hollow lows. This is the main issue with Visions. Many of these songs just feel hollow. The mixing and the effects give the songs a huge amount of room to work with, but Wolf Alice provides so little to actually fill that space that the listener is left sitting in a sonically void tract of headroom, trying to decipher what exactly is supposed to grab them about the song they’re listening to.
This hollow nature extends beyond the sound of the album, reaching to many of the lyrics as well. Many of the lyrics on Visions are too generic to feel emotional or authentic. ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ aims for sky-high 80’s pop ballad zen, but it’s difficult to really suck yourself into the feel of a song when the chorus requires you to shout “what if it’s not meant for me? Love”. Even when the lyrics are original, they make little to no sense as a narrative, like on ‘Planet Hunter’. Additionally, lead vocalist Ellie Rowsell’s delivery over much of Visions is wildly inconsistent. There are songs like ‘Sadboy’, where she plays it as straight as possible. Then there are songs like ‘Sky Musings’ where she spends 3 minutes whispering about airplanes. In fact, there are more then a few moments on this album, such as on ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’, where Ellie spends the majority of the track whispering the lyrics, eschewing singing altogether. While it’s an interesting artistic decision, at least in theory, the whispering carries with it virtually no substance that captures the listener’s attention. Roswell’s vocal delivery on this album, while different, lead to highly questionable results.
This is especially evident on ‘Yuk Foo’. ‘Yuk Foo’ may be the most confounding song Wolf Alice has released to date. One can only assume the band was aiming to make a punk rock song, indebted to some of their British influences like the Sex Pistols, but it’s not really a punk song. There’s distortion, sure, and there’s screaming, and cursing, and edgy lyrics. These are all elements of punk rock, yes, but on ‘Yuk Foo’ they’re all fighting against each other in an extraordinarily ugly fashion. It’s hard to picture a scenario where one would consciously choose to listen to this song. Am I expected to sing along to “I wanna fuck all the people I meet / Fuck all my friends and all the people in the street” while I’m working out at the gym? What about while I’m cooking? While driving to church? I honestly don’t know.
What’s nearly as confounding is the fact that Wolf Alice chose to follow this song up in the tracklist with one of the lightest and jangliest songs on the album, ‘Beautifully Unconventional’. Ironically enough, this track ends up being one of the few highlights of the record. The core of the track is a very poppy lead riff, catchy vocal hooks, and a good amount of energy to carry the song through it’s relatively short 2:13 run time. The same can be said of tracks like ‘St. Purple and Green’, arguably the best song on the album. It has a similarly solid set of hooks, the lyrics are a nice familial story, and the song carries it’s first two minutes at a solid pace. It’s the instrumental breakdown in the second half of the track, however, that really makes this track stand out (even if it may represent the band wearing their Radiohead influences a bit too far down their sleeves).
The real problem with Visions runs to the core of Wolf Alice as an outfit. The band desperately wants to be sat in line with other great Brit-rock outfits, like Blur or Oasis. Rather then aiming to pave their own way through this sound, the band relied on the producer of Paramore’s last album to help them craft Visions. These great Brit-rock bands were not pop-rock outfits. Pairing yourself with a pop-rock producer will not lead to the result you seek. Instead, Wolf Alice leaves us with a collection of songs aiming to be emotional, gritty, and compelling, but instead fell inauthentic. That’s the problem with Visions. This album feels inauthentic. This album has no teeth, no bite, no character. Any room this album plays in, the music immediately falls into the background. There is nothing about Visions that really forces you to wrestle with the material here. The band obviously has aspirations to be leaders for their scene, but until the band starts to put out music that fits the bill, they will continue to be as inoffensive as the indie bands opening for them at every festival.
Words by Sebastian Campbell