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“[Review] The Wombats: “Glitterbug””
By Danielle Levsky
Posted on May 18, 2015
It was four years ago that my friend and I took swigs of a ginger ale bottle filled with 3/4 Hendrick’s gin as we bounced up and down and howled, knocking into each other’s sweaty clothes and others’ (some clothed, some shirtless) that were equally dripping as the Wombats sang “Kill The Director” (“If this is a rom-com, kill the director!”). At the time, I was in a relationship but upon headbanging to this favorite track, I thought I should end things just to feel the angst of love in this song a little more.
Following the release of their 2011 album This Modern Glitch, The Wombats toured through the United States, including Pittsburgh, my university town. Along with approximately 50 other fans, we crowded and huddled around a small stage, trying to maintain some semblance of personal space. Within thirty minutes of the start of the show, we were knocking against each other, hugging, screaming the lyrics to all of our favorites off of their two albums, moshing and jumping until it got so sweaty that dudes started taking off their shirts. Mid-show, the Wombats organized for balloons to be dropped on our heads from the high ceiling above.
Glitterbug, the Wombats’ third studio album, is vastly different than their previous albums. It’s even in the change of the album name: the Wombats don’t “proudly present” this album. It’s a clear indication that they are trying something new, something long-time fans are not quite used to from the Brit indie group.
While A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation and Modern Glitch shower the listener with angry, dance -fueled indie rock with clear punk roots, the band still manages to craft a clever playlist in Glitterbug that incorporates synth-pop and glam rock like a musical love child between David Bowie and Foster the People. Our Liverpudlians Matthew Murphy (lead vocals, guitar, keyboard), Daniel (Dan) Haggis (drums, percussion, keyboard and backing vocals) and Tord Øverland Knudsen (bass guitar, guitar, keyboard and backing vocals) sound all polished and all grown up. The lyrics maintain the cynicism and desperation long time fans love.
The album opens with “Emoticons.” The soft ’80s pop feel is reminiscent of Daft Punk’s “Instant Crush” in its steady beat and falsetto fueled voices. Its easy to listen to but too tame for an opening number. Murphy’s falsetto and background harmonization in the chorus drowns out his punchy and heartfelt lyrics on modern love in a digital age (“And all these emoticons and words / Try to make it better but they only make it worse”). The bridge is the most powerful part of this song for me; its the most reminiscent of the power ballads in previous albums.
“Greek Tragedy” puts forward a consistent beat in the beginning, slowly building into the chorus and letting Murphy’s iconic voice shine on its own. It ends in an epic combination of synth and vocals. This song actually starts the album. It’s the third one in, but it’s actually intriguing.
“Be Your Shadow” is a pop-infused dance along with simple lyrics. It calls homage to their dance hits off A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation. Change and adaptation, of course, is good for any blossoming indie band but I’m afraid they’re holding back, trying to redefine themselves and scrap the party-love-punk vibes they so perfectly captured in their first two albums.
“Headspace” makes me feel like I’m in a John Hughes movie. It slows things down with its melancholy melody and lyrics (“I’m acting my age here and I’m growing up too fast / and streets paved with gold / I want my money back”). It’s perhaps a little early for the album to slow down since it just started to pick up. The synthesizers over power Murphy’s voice in this track; I am in full support of having his voice on front display at all times. The bridge is catchy but it still feels as if they’re holding back all angst and anger. They’re growing up, but that shouldn’t mean losing their sound.
“This Is Not A Party” brings me back to the good ol’ days of “School Uniforms.” The funky and fun nature of this song reminds me if the same John Hughes film and “Garden State” had a love child. The synth works well in this track, not overpowering but supporting dear Murph’s cheeky lyrics.
Of course, every Wombats album needs a love song. The love song of this album, “Isabel,” is sweet and poignant in lyrics. The background harmony and synth that comes in at the chorus is reminiscent of Wombats love song favorite “Party in the Forest (Where’s Laura?),” though “Isabel” has less desperation and more maturity.
For most of this album, our British boys seem to be holding back, creating catchy but forgettable melodies. The next two tracks are the Wombats I have been waiting for: “Your Body Is A Weapon” and “The English Summer” are the top tracks off this album (“Your Body Is A Weapon” was the first single released from the new album, on October 2, 2013). “Your Body Is A Weapon” showcases that frontman we know and love. The song is rich with passionate lyrics and vocals, grandiose synth and intense backup vocals. The chorus is so catchy that I’ve been humming it all day long. It’s a slick, cheesy-but-cheeky track that maintains the rock dance vibes the Wombats do so well.
When “English Summer” rolls in, or more so breaks the damn wall down with an intense guitar intro, I wonder, “What? Was the rest of the album a warm up? What is this track doing so far down the list?” The rhythm of this song brings me back to the Pittsburgh concert, where my red hair whipped sweaty, and nerdy dudes and I headbang to the edge of blindness. These are the Wombats I know and love.
“Pink Lemonade” is… nice. The guitar is nice, Murphy’s vocals are nice, but the song itself seems a bit forgettable. A good, easy tune to fall asleep to on your porch in the summer. Aside from the easy-to-sing-along chorus repetition of “Pink Lemonade,” this song fades out like a Chicago summer. In contrast, “Little Miss Pipedream” from A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation is what a summer song should sound like; with a rhythmic beat and highly adorable/light lyrics to accompany it, it hits the spot better than lemonade.
The Wombats recorded the majority of these tracks with Mark Crew, who was responsible for pushing Bastille, Coldplay and Snow Patrol into US popularity. The Wombats are trying something new with their synth-pulsed, poppy tracks, and that’s brave and admirable. Perhaps next time, though, they can remember that their desperate and self-deprecating angst is why so many people love them. Cheers from my gin-ginger ale to this album and the next, but may the adult angst come back in full force.
Score: 6.5 out of 10