Wild Beasts

Boy King

BY Matt BobkinPublished Aug 5, 2016

There's always been a potent element of performativity to Wild Beasts' music: the syrupy pianos and synths; Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming's duelling, operatic vocals; lyrics about the animalistic nature of human beings. The British quartet's production has always been equal parts simmering and striking, lingering in the synth-y shadows to best calculate when to launch a hook-laden attack on their listeners, and it's led to much success over their first four albums.
But on Boy King, Wild Beasts' fifth LP, the band take on a more dance-oriented sound that doesn't pay off. A loose concept album about toxic masculinity, their newfound posturing and posing ultimately strips away much of what made the band a success. There are definite highlights — the sly prowl of "Big Cat," the plaintive, electro-orchestral swell of "Dreamliner" — but tracks like "Tough Guy" and "2BU" are let down by sloppy synth work, and the latter is further disjointed by overpowering percussion.
While earlier work, such as grooving sophomore album Two Dancers, mixed brain and dance-floor brawn, Boy King's sweaty, more beat-driven dance tracks focus too much on the latter, at the cost of the former. The band even deliberately jumble the titular phrases of "Get My Bang" and "Eat Your Heart out Adonis," as if to hammer home the mindlessness of it all.
This isn't the first time that Wild Beasts have used an ironic lyrical embrace to tackle their pet peeves — 2014's Smother highlight "Wanderlust" ripped apart frivolous, upper-class youth — but here, the Beasts have immersed themselves in the world and sound of their targets, to the point of forgetting their original strengths. Wild Beasts have always been strong performers, but only when seemingly unaware; by tackling the trope of hubris-laden bro rockers, Boy King finds them becoming the butt of their own jokes, with little more than mindless dance tracks to show for it.

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