A feral, farewell love letter from Wild Beasts

(From left) Ben Little, Hayden Thorpe, Chris Talbot and Tom Fleming of English indie rock band Wild Beasts.
(From left) Ben Little, Hayden Thorpe, Chris Talbot and Tom Fleming of English indie rock band Wild Beasts.

They have always been loveably anachronistic, too fey for dad rock and too scurrilous to pass off as prissy.

A band of outsiders who named themselves after les Fauves, the group of early 20th-century French artists led by Henri Matisse, Wild Beasts have pranced through modern times with painterly joie de vivre. The English group have now split amicably after five acclaimed albums, including the 2009 Mercury Prize-nominated masterpiece Two Dancers.

Last Night All My Dreams Came True is a farewell love letter from the Cumbrian foursome, a live recording in RAK Studios in London which took stock of their discography.

Some fans bray that it draws too heavily on 2016's discorelic Boy King, but then they want only the hits. Wild Beasts have always followed their feral muse, venturing into whatever terrain pleases them. Godspeed those who want them to toe the line.

This sharp instinct pays off handsomely. The opening track is Wanderlust, the brilliant manifesto from 2014's Present Tense. Here, the group spell out their guiding principle and call out those who sell out.

"They're solemn in their wealth, we're high in our poverty/We see the things they never see," sings vocalist Hayden Thorpe in a lissome falsetto over definitive thumps and a synth groove which snakes around your conscience.

Curiously, times have caught up with their brand of genre-defying, gender-crossing aesthetics. With extraordinary attention focused on misogyny in the light of the #MeToo awakening, Wild Beasts' forward-looking music has never seemed so relevant.

  • (From left) Ben Little, Hayden Thorpe, Chris Talbot and Tom Fleming of English indie rock band Wild Beasts.



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A song such as Alpha Female is timely. "I'm learning that I know the least," declares Thorpe over incendiary riffs. As he has said in an interview, "I'm someone who has none of the idea of sexiness in women being about a kind of subservience and domestication, I'm more for being very much humbled and put in my place."

On the other end of the spectrum, vocalist Tom Fleming zeroes in on murderous machismo in 2BU. He puts his baritone to devastating impact. "Give me your house, give me your things… I want your name, I want to live/I want everything," he grunts with totalitarian drama.

Here is a particular streak of Euro-bawdiness which undercuts any PC, proselytising tendency. How they merge two songs - The Devil's Crayon from 2008's Limbo, Panto; and Palace from 2014's Present Tense - into The Devil's Palace, a moody masterpiece which displays the vocal interplay of Thorpe and Fleming.

While Thorpe often takes the flashier, attention-grabbing antics, Fleming comes to the fore in the too-sexy All The King's Men, role-playing with relish. "Watch me! Watch me! The belle of the ball," he squeals, then woos all the girls from Roedean, Shipley, Hounslow and Whitby. Thorpe meanwhile coos like a vulpine lothario.

Therein lies their unique legacy. In Hooting & Howling, they do just that. Conflating high and pop culture, they extol the beauty in the beast and vice versa, celebrating oddities such as "a crude art, a bovver boot ballet - equally elegant and ugly".

Goodbye Wild Beasts, long live their spirit!

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2018, with the headline 'A feral, farewell love letter from Wild Beasts'. Subscribe