I look back on 2007 with great fondness. A year that not only saw the release of Untrue, Sound of Silver and Mirrored, but in which the indie contingent was still alive, well and loved in the nation’s charts. In fact, it was perhaps one of the last years that guitar bands were really making their mark in such a context.
Back then, when The Wombats first introduced themselves, their contemporaries were the likes of Kaiser Chiefs, Reverend and the Makers and Maximo Park (all bands that scored top ten singles that year). But returning after a four year break, now the Liverpool-based trio now find themselves jostling uncomfortably for commercial space amongst the likes of Rihanna, Gaga and Katy Perry.
Singer and songwriter Matthew ‘Murph’ Murphy has said that with This Modern Glitch the band elected not to do something that would 'freak everybody out', but just concentrated on trying to surpass their most loved songs. Read this as: expect more of exactly the same quirky, chorus-heavy, radio-honed indie-pop. Certainly, jittery opener ‘Our Perfect Disease’ provides a familiarly frenetic re-entry into the band’s jaunty world. The Wombat formula remains firmly in place, albeit in a more electro-tinged direction, whoops and chirps swooping amid bouncy guitars that betray Murph’s dry lyrics: “I don’t admit it but we never saw eye to eye, my hobby’s moaning and yours is making money.”
True, more musical progression would have been nice. The newly appended bursts of synth do suit and plump up the band’s trademark ADHD sound, but it seems like such a natural progression for them that it’s barely a progression at all. And that’s unfair, because This Modern Glitch is not a bad album. In fact taken in context it’s a fun, immediate sugar-rush of a listen.
The first single to be released, ‘Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)’, is this album’s ‘Moving To New York’, a stupidly hooky, funky workout of glimmering synths. But by the time we get to the equally addictive ‘Jump Into The Fog’ or the spacey disco-thump of ‘1996’ we kinda feel like we’re overdosing on choruses that mask the fact these songs are devoid of any real risk or substance. In truth, the band backed themselves into a corner with the power-pop, cheeky vim of their debut and the majority of their core fanbase simply won’t want a volte-face in the vein of Kid A’s textural challenges or a Congratulations-esque psyche-pop trip. Nor though, you suspect, could The Wombats pull off that sort of a 360.
So they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Because sticking to the slightly moronic yet splashy jubilance that served them so well in the past, will inevitably lead to grumblings that they should have fucked the haters and flung themselves headfirst into a new direction. Expanding for instance, on the grungy slog of surprise closer ‘Schumacher The Champagne’ would definitely have made for more interesting listening.
On the other hand, there’s an omnipresent, distinct sense of, perhaps not maturity, but definitely sobriety. This Modern Glitch is nowhere near as silly and inane as Love, Loss and Desperation and the band themselves seem less free and giddy than before. Certainly there’s nothing as goofy as ‘Patricia the Stripper’ or as insipid as ‘Lost in the Post’. Instead their second album is more in keeping with Murphy’s own, self-described Nick Cave-type personality, especially evident now that information has come to light about his battle with anti-depressants.
Take ‘Anti D’ with its sweeping strings and clunky/genius lyric; “please allow me to be your anti-depressant; I too am prescribed as freely, as any decongestant.” A welcome change in pace and with a more serious lyrical theme, it’s the only other time The Wombats truly shift into new pastures and highlights the fact that if the band would only step away from their formulaic methods and remove the irritating “whooos” and “aaaahs” that make these songs so… so Wombatty, they’d strike a far more intriguing, credible prospect.
6Dannii Leivers 's Score