I suspect I may have written more about Wild Beasts than any other British band in the two or so years Wild Mercury Sound has been running, doubtless to the bafflement and irritation of a good few regular readers.
Wild Beasts, as has been noted by everyone who’s ever written about them, are something of an acquired taste, due chiefly to the untethered falsetto of Hayden Thorpe, who occasionally makes Billy Mackenzie sound like Isaac Hayes, relatively speaking.
Once you’re hooked, though, it’s clear Wild Beasts are on quite a run. A year and a bit after their debut, “Limbo, Panto”, “Two Dancers” is just as good. That Associates reference is more apposite than ever, too. While “Limbo” often recalled Orange Juice and The Smiths, “Two Dancers” is lush and elegaic, a slightly more luxurious ride, even though Wild Beasts haven’t materially reconfigured their sound in any obvious way.
What they’ve done, it seems, is reined in some of their eccentricities while retaining all their character. Songs don’t clip-clop along in an arch music hall way any more; rather, they stretch out gracefully and romantically, so that the likes of “This Is Our Lot” can be seen as a development on the outstanding “Woebegone Wanderers” from the debut album.
Thorpe, too, gargles a little less than previously, though his yodels are still every bit as gymnastic. On the opening “The Fun Powder Plot” (an uncharacteristic tilt into naffness, if only in the title), he glides in over a sort of glassy, opulent groove that reminds me a little of an understated update of the late Roxy Music sound; less abrasive, but still wilfully disruptive. On the brief, mildly sinister cabaret song, “Underbelly”, he faintly resembles Antony Hegarty.
“When I’m Sleepy” meanwhile, is gauzy and supple, somehow recalling the Cocteau Twins. But it’s “We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues” that stands out as the best example of how the Wild Beasts sound has evolved. The demure, sophisticated funk of Roxy is there again, along with ebbing and ringing guitar riffs that remind me a little of The Edge, oddly. In spite of Thorpe’s vocals, it works in a linear, pulsing, insistent fashion, its quirks embedded rather than overt, and with a gorgeous air of romance, of gently remembered ecstasies.
This mood pervades the whole album, even on the songs sung by Wild Beasts’ other, stauncher vocalist, bassist Tom Fleming. Fleming takes the lead on four out of ten songs this time, including the album’s most immediate song, “All The King’s Men”, a swaggering aesthetes’ anthem with a glam beat over which Little summons “Girls from Roedean, girls from Shipley”.
It’s another gorgeous album, which seems to be the work of a band maturing in a sensitive and uncompromising way rather than feeling obliged to banish their quirks in pursuit of greater success. Like “Cheerio Chaps” on “Limbo, Panto”, “Two Dancers” closes with a valedictory sway, “The Empty Nest”; one that feels as warm and individual as its predecessor, but less arch, less anxious. Plenty more to come from this lot, I think.