Published May 10, 2011Kendal, England's Wild Beasts have had a slow ascension to the top. After 2008's much-overlooked debut, Limbo Panto, they quietly dropped Two Dancers the following year, which earned them a Mercury nomination and critical esteem. Once again, they've released another record without all of the advance fanfare, but also toned down the theatrics. On those first two albums, Wild Beasts showed promise of becoming a more demure version of Sparks, but Smother amplifies the more accurate Talk Talk comparisons even further. The drums travel at near-death pulsations and the guitars produce elegiac textures for the soaring, countertenor vocals of Hayden Thorpe and the more grounded bass of Tom Fleming's voice. But the music's understated arrangements, wrapped in warm, controlled production, allow more stress to be placed upon the lyrics, which have become even more sexed up and sad. The dirty, rumbling synth of "Lion's Share" allows a line like, "I take you in my mouth/Like a lion takes his prey" to ring out with loin-burning urgency, while the twinkling synths and puttering rhythm of "Plaything" reveal a come on like, "New squeeze/Take off your chemise." Smother isn't as immediate in delivering its seductive kiss as Two Dancers, but the afterglow of this third album will stay with you for a very long time.
I was expecting Smother to be this grandiose art rock album, but it's really understated. Why?
Vocalist/bassist Tom Fleming: I think the logical step for us was to come back on a more personal scale. I think we captured a bit of human frailty, rather than kind of being a bigger rock or dance record, which is the expected industry progression. But I think the people who buy our records and attend our shows wouldn't have expected [this album] either. We found that people were finally listening, so we didn't need to shout anymore.
How did the Mercury Prize change things for the band?
It made us much more visible, definitely. It wasn't necessarily artistic vindication, but it convinced people that we are going to be around for a while. When we came out, we felt that people weren't quite sure what to make of us and they were reserving judgment. Two Dancers took so long to get anywhere, and by the time it happened, it had been 18 months. With the singles, radio play and TV play, people definitely learned of us from the nomination. But I don't mind people taking different things from us than maybe I wanted them to.
You once said you thought Wild Beasts were too weird to be overexposed. Still believe that?
That's what I always assumed, but now I'm not sure it's true. (Domino)