Blue Weekend, the third full-length album from the London-based band Wolf Alice, begins not in the band’s own words, but in William Shakespeare’s: “When will we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, in rain?” intones frontwoman Ellie Rowsell over a subdued guitar, invoking the witches of Macbeth. That tentatively ominous introduction soon sweeps into a crescendo, robustly welcoming the listener into the theatrical world of the album, one that embraces the melodrama of heartbreak. Here, Wolf Alice leans into a form of musical storytelling that revels in fleeting moments and crystallized emotions. Although it is a fragmented narrative, Blue Weekend constructs a modern fairytale in a world that is never too far from the pain of reality, but often distant enough to make the pain appear beautiful.
The flow of Blue Weekend is relentlessly dynamic. Rowsell’s chameleonic vocals set the pace for the record, as she switches effortlessly between ethereal layers of harmonies, brash screams, rhythmic spoken cadences, and straightforward balladry. The instrumentation complements her delivery, so that raucous noise matches Rowsell’s screams and sparser arrangements underscore her sighs. Most of the record flows in a subtle interchange of energy as each song transitions between high and low intensity, but sometimes these shifts between extremes are seismic. Tracks like “Smile” and “Play the Greatest Hits” demand attention with their rollicking tempos and irreverent attitudes, while the traditional ballads “Safe From Heartbreak (if you never fall in love)” and “No Hard Feelings” ease the built-up tension through their honest delicacy.
These sonic dynamics are further reflected in the lyrical interplay between details and abstractions. Rowsell describes a night of Hollywood hedonism in painstaking detail on “Delicious Things” and alludes to pop culture icons like Marilyn Monroe and Amy Winehouse, but keeps her own muses’ identities secret, reducing their bodies to her experience of their hands and lips. The effect is that, when juxtaposed with the universality of fame, her personal realm becomes a sanctified, abstract space within the album, in which the anonymity of her love stories is the quality that makes them magical. This dynamic between the obvious and the mysterious creates a symmetry within Blue Weekend that balances the record’s sweeping collage of sounds and images. The vivid imagery which defines songs like “Lipstick on the Glass” and “The Last Man on Earth” manages to both capture the imagination and maintain an aura of ambiguous universality in the music. The combination enthralls, and these songs envelop the listener in four-minute-long daydreams.
Halfway through the album, “How Can I Make It OK?” centers Blue Weekend on a thematic touchstone. In this song, Roswell’s vocals particularly shine. Her 2-part harmonies in the verses play at equal volume, giving off the effect that two lead vocalists are locked in a battle for dominance over a duet. As the song builds upon itself, her insistent cries in the chorus – “ I just want you to be happy. How can I make it okay? Nothing else is as important as that to me.” – escalate in urgency and desperation until her anxieties are exhausted and an air of release descends on the outro. Wolf Alice doesn’t figure out how to “make it OK” by the end of the song, but by asking the question the band introduces a new dimension to the storyline of the record. After one final explosion in “Play the Greatest Hits,” the latter tracks of the album settle into a more mellow mood, finally reaching a semblance of peace in “The Beach II.”
The last lyrics heard on both the final track and the record as a whole are, “It’s okay,” an apparent answer to that insistent question from “How Can I Make It OK?” and an affirmation that pain is temporary; however, if pain is temporary, then pleasure must be as well. After the turbulence of the prior tracks, the respite of the final song contains seeds of bittersweetness, but also an overwhelming sense of enlightenment found in the ephemerality of bliss. Blue Weekend revels in the temporality of emotion, and capitalizes on the particular treasures that come from the certainty that all things – good, bad, and indifferent – must end.
Buy and stream Wolf Alice’s new album Blue Weekend out everywhere on RCA Records.