If the world is shutting down around you, might as well try to make some music. The English band Wolf Alice were ensconced in a Brussels studio when COVID-19 made European borders close as decisively as heavy steel doors. They took the lockdown as an opportunity, putting all of their concentration into the new set of songs they were working on for their third studio album and first full-length outing since 2017. The album that resulted, Blue Weekend, is a tribute giving a talented act more time than they expect to have to shape their material, making it feel almost like a throwback to bygone days when even the relative upstarts were given the generosity of label investment.
It’s certainly possible that Blue Weekend would have been more or less the same had the circumstances of a global pandemic not intervened and given Wolf Alice the privilege of more unstructured time to work. A recent interview with the band’s frontwoman, Ellie Rowsell, implies otherwise.
“Then with the more opportunities we had, and the more people and places you go, we let ourselves do whatever we felt inspired by,” Rowsell explained to Songwriter Universe, discussing the general evolution of the band from their acoustic, indie-pop beginnings. “I don’t think we hold any rules against ourselves. We don’t care about what’s cool or not. We’ve always just worked with what we’ve got and what we’re feeling inspired by. So we’ve never given much thought to it. It’s just whatever we’re feeling.”
With more time to feel their way through, the songs take on an expansive richness. Often on Blue Weekend, the professed disinterest in adhering to set boundaries manifests as material that is truly chameleon-like: The shape is clearly still there, but the shading and hues have changed. “Delicious Things” is dreamy and grounded at the same time, as if Beach House recorded while nursing a hangover that added some edge. “Safe From Heartbreak (IF You Never Fall in Love)”is like early-seventies folk rock cast through the kaleidoscope of decades of indie-kid sensibilities, and “The Last Man on Earth” is what we’d get if Electric Light Orchestra was given a modern makeover by Florence and the Machine.
The sense of freewheeling invention can result is some tangy amalgamations: To the degree that they’re categorizable at all, “Play the Greatest Hits” is riot grrrl pop, and “Smile” is glammy, nu-metal hip hop. It’s equally likely that Wolf Alice simply finesses a track to a point where it’s a near-perfect rendering of current pop. “How Can I Make It OK?” is full to bursting with ambitious exquisiteness, like Perfume Genius scaled back a notch or two.
Much as the album roves and roams, dappled by the reflected light of every gemstone picked up and inspected by curious creators, it is also clearly the expression of a singular, focused band. It is as much as statement of identity as any collection of soundalike track that locks an artists into a soundalike drone. Blue Weekend is Wolf Alice through and through. It just so happens that Wolf Alice is ready to assert that they’re capable of being anything and everything they want to be.