“Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a f**k”, goes the refrain of Wanderlust – Last Night All My Dreams Came True’s opening song – the music a pulsing, slightly discordant and typically atmospheric brew which backs a kiss off to an unidentified lover/hater/other, later rounded off caustically with the line: “What’s the verb to suck?”.
As if to emphasise Wild Beasts‘ indifference to opinion, co-vocalist Tom Fleming took it a step further when speaking about their approach to recording this as-live retrospective, released to coincide with a handful of farewell live dates after publicly announcing their decision to split in September 2017. “It’s us as tight and slick as we ever have been,” he said. “And it’s also us giving the fewest f***s we’ve ever given. There’s a sense of celebration and destructiveness combined, a sense that the fetters are off.”
The point though was that Wild Beasts as an entity did care. They cared enough to touch on subjects in their music which many others consciously avoided; sexuality, masculinity, femininity, love, lust, jealousy, guilt. Above all though, as this thirteen-track adieu eloquently demonstrates, they cared enough to finish in full effect, like a purist boxer bloodied but undefeated and retiring to a life in which he would never again lace up a glove.
Perhaps this is the wrong analogy – after all Hooting And Howling, recreated here from 2009’s Mercury nominated album Two Dancers – is about the emptiness of adolescent male violence, but Wild Beasts always felt good enough to be able to get away with having their cake and eating it. On Bed Of Nails, they’re happy to give and take, the vocal interplay of Tom Fleming (high bits) and Hayden Thorpe (low) caressing words in a song with sex in it that runs typically short of objectification.
This tight yoking of voices and a darkly permissive lyrical obsession weren’t the only things that set them apart however, and this album isn’t a victory lap in the traditional sense. On All The Kings Men, they dance across the narrow edge of afro-pop and the tribalism of peak-era Talking Heads, whilst The Devil’s Palace, a hybrid of The Devil’s Crayon from the band’s 2008 debut Limbo, Panto and Palace from 2014’s Present Tense, is a pristine, delicately layered synth lament which speaks to their ability to shape-shift from one polished dimension to the next.
All of this belies the crisis of identity which prompted a group of friends and accomplished musicians to decide to end a sixteen-year bond, but as Fleming has also admitted this fraying of their absolute was what made their last studio album Boy King so provocative.
Their obvious pride is underscored here by a collection skewed towards it featuring Big Cat, 2BU, Colossus, Get My Bang, Alpha Female and closer Celestial Creatures, with the latter two being thuddingly strident art rock and as close as the quartet get here to anthemic, main-stage levels of accessibility in turn.
“I’m a man who likes to watch the world burn”, go the words of 2BU – a character who, not unlike Wild Beasts themselves, has stepped back from its maelstrom as a creative force.
They will be missed, but they will not miss it; this fine parting gift is the sound of a band not giving one f**k about it, but many, many more.