As missed as they are, it’s fair to say that Wild Beasts were shrewd when departing last year.
Critically lauded with a loyal fanbase, for a few years their releases were eagerly anticipated but each was found wanting when it came to crossover success.
The band’s departure was and is a loss; they could be relied on to always be interesting, musically speaking, at the very least even if festival headline slots were out of their reach, always that bit too artistic to ever be part of the mainstream. So, following the lead of peers The Maccabees, they opted to part on their own terms with a legacy intact.
Yet such creativity is not easily quelled, and after Hayden Thorpe released his debut earlier in 2019 we now have another member’s solo record. Although all songwriting credits went to the band, both records give us an insight into who exactly did what.
Diviner demonstrated that Thorpe was the more ‘traditional’ songwriter, whereas based on the evidence of One True Pairing, Tom Fleming (for it is he) was the one pushing the band to new ideas and to become more machine-driven. Freed from the constraints of the band dynamic, he’s turned the ignition on and is in full drive-time rock mode.
Yes dear reader, we are once again back in the 1980s. Fashion may have forgotten it but music certainly hasn’t. So evocative and dominant was the synthesizer nearly forty years ago that it’s impossible to differentiate sound from era and the guitar – specifically, and topically, the crisp sound of The Cars – is also frequently on display here.
Lead single I’m Not Afraid was an early indicator, a slice of driving, Don Henley-esque FM rock. Black Walls adds chugging synths into the pot for good measure while Dawn At The Factory manages to meld the concise guitars of Dire Straits with the doom-electronica of late-period Editors. The soothing bass is at odds with the rest of the song, but the reward is a slippery, face-melting solo that transforms it into something of an odyssey.
The subtle, dubby chimes of Zero Summer and the oriental timbre of the title-track keep things interesting, but the standout is King Of The Rats, a blissfully sparse piano piece of brittle beauty that emphasises, despite all the effects, there is no substitute for the human touch.
It’s vocally where the album stands out. Fleming has a distinctive, operatic voice which can sometimes veer into Elvis territory but is never less than engaging. It also suits the subject matter of a good number of the songs, the trappings and expectations of masculinity (‘I’m trying to be gentle, I’m trying to be good’), as he once again explores some of the themes which Wild Beasts often investigated.
Fleming’s voice is deep enough to convey ‘typical’ masculinity but fragile enough to project the subject matter, making this an accomplished piece of work.