Whilst nonchalantly considering the artists to have recently graced the pantheon of the world’s constantly evolving musical tapestry, it occurred to me in having to decline a £100 ticket to witness the genius of Lady Kate Bush (23 plus nights sold out to the rafters) that there currently exists one band who can justifiably lay claim to her undimmed levels of innovation and musical sorcery.
That band hail from Cumbria, windswept pearl of the North West, a part of this hallowed England of ours which spawned The Smiths, Elbow and makers of the one of the best ever debut albums, The Stone Roses. Here is a four piece, an enigma, a darkly intoxicating rose surrounded by crowns of thorns, gleaming black and sorely tempting. They desire to steal your heart and soul and wrap you up in their sensual velvet grip……they are Wild Beasts.
It occurred to me during a mesmerising, otherworldly performance they gave at the Exeter Phoenix a couple of fitful years ago, that this band may just be the most vital to have emerged in the last 20 years from anywhere on this godforsaken, sceptred isle of ours. They had me transfixed, rooted to the spot, helpless to move further, locked in sweet surrender to their rhyme and rustle, their hidden meanings, their overwhelming sense of longing.
Audience members were chatting loudly and knocking back their pints, oblivious to the transcendent moments happening before their squinty little eyes, failing fully to appreciate the new history being created, a fresh standard for true songwriting. I was transported to new ranges of emotional experience that evening and I just could not rid myself of the lingering echo of Kate’s ‘Hounds of Love’ in my mind the whole while. I realised that the parallels were bursting out before my eyes, tempted and brought into focus over and again.
Where does this come from? Do we deserve such subtlety and profundity? Let me explain….perhaps. You have to begin with the VOICES. Oh the voices…..
Kate has always excelled in the breathy, hyper sensual vocals, starting with her own high-pitched banshee wail, exhibited to stunning effect on ‘Wuthering Heights’. She can equally exert perfect emotional control on songs such as ‘The Man with the Child in his Eyes’. Her full vocal range tears into the heart and its many-flavoured strings on every track from ‘Hounds of Love’ and ‘The Sensual World’(amongst several other genius works) taking you on a journey into near madness, unhinged yet magnified, an orgiastic celebration of the essence of her being.
Hayden and Tom from the Beasts seize this template and lift off to another, near celestial plane with one soaring falsetto and another intensely deep baritone. Both have the ability to chill your core and lift you up beyond the cloud space simultaneously. Their approach is unique in modern pop music. Only Prince comes close, but even his extravagant vocal mannerisms (witness ‘When Doves cry’ and ‘Kiss’ for delightful examples) cannot match the singular intensity of Tom’s proclamations on ‘Nature Boy’ or ‘ All the King’s Men’ (amongst other tracks across all four albums). However, it is when these two boys combine their voices that the real alchemy takes place. Hypnotic, dripping in sexual longing and lascivious intent, they drape vocal chords over the sinuous frames of the band’s mood-filled musical arrangements.
This aspect introduces another dimension to both artists. Kate understood that the listener can become captivated by the spaces between the notes, the raw atmosphere beyond the slavish adherence to the 3 minute perfect pop moment. These have their place but the discerning, curious music lover will always yearn for something that takes their own soul beneath the surface to another, deeper level, where doubt exists and differences happen : magical moments like so many shooting stars, quickening waterfalls, and the breath of hummingbirds perchance? Amazed ears will rejoice in the twists and turns, the intense dynamics, the bass curling seductively around your waist, catching you unawares.
Wild Beasts use sound as their ever-shifting fabric to be twisted into new and interesting shapes. They want you to breathe in their deeply spiritual sound scapes, become involved, and rejoice in the colour washes of synths, forceful percussive rhythms and insistent plucked guitar lines. Recent remixes allow their music to be broken down then reconstructed around a groove, a feeling, beckoning you toward fresh experience. Even Techno pioneer Juan Atkins has remixed some of their new material. This typifies their relevance in the crowded market and lends them credibility beyond many of their contemporaries.
Kate started out bucolic and pastoral and on her (other) masterpiece ‘Ariel’ came full circle, leaving commerciality on the backburner with a distinct return to nature and lost innocence, previously illustrated to heartbreaking effect on ‘Cloud busting’ and the frankly overwhelming suite of songs known as ‘ The Ninth Wave’. She is revered as much as she is crucially relevant to any aspiring band wanting to create outside the so-called mainstream. Wild Beasts are such a band.
Their art, and it is ART in all its dirty, unbound glory, cannot be tied down by specific genre-baiting and petty arguments about style and substance. Kevin Rowland once famously said ‘‘Compromise is the devil talking…’. Another lone maverick Mark Hollis also declared that all music must be heard, it can NEVER be background music. With Bush and the Beasts there is no compromise - you are forever in uncharted territory, forever to be surprised and delighted. You cannot listen without being fully and feverishly involved as a listener. It may make you want to rant and rave to anyone who will listen (my specialty) or express your unbridled love for this band in the written word. Words are, of course, never enough. As one of their most erotically charged anthems attests, when you listen you will be left hooting and howling, in cahoots to your own restless tormented feelings. It will feel so good, so freeing, just LISTEN…….
(NB – this is the first of a series of articles, as well as reviews of classic and unheard of albums to come over the ensuing months. It could be about ANYTHING, but you know it will matter..)