“If you want someone with real balls it’s the male ballet dancer. That’s where the real grit is," Hayden Thorpe recently told The Guardian. Toying with the role - or lack thereof - masculinity plays in the oft married duo that is sex and rock ’n’ roll since the very first notes of their discography, Cumbrian natives Wild Beasts have come far from the raucously theatrical flamboyance of Limbo, Panto to the impeccably wrought beauty of Present Tense’s gentler sides. They’ve been swearing by their own “cock and balls” since they emphatically debuted in 2008, but on their fifth LP, Boy King, they outright swear with them, and it's clear that the courtship show is now over as raw, licentious aggression drips in its stead. Boy King consists of 10 sharp pop tracks beneath some massively ‘80s cover art reminiscent of a more polished News of the World, its robotic glow all the more curious when juxtaposed with the animalistic sentiments that writhe within.
Wild Beasts’ unique art rock has usually occupied the English indie scene’s outsider category as Arctic Monkeys-type lad rockers reigned. Thorpe’s exuberant, if not effeminate falsetto sounded an outright protest of them, though in embracing such lecherous id he and his band now wear their own brand of leather jackets and wear them quite well. “In some ways we're now the band we set out against!” Thorpe admits, but while artists grow and change, the true Boy King inherent in men remains limbic despite any change in our creative and cerebral representations of its primitive drive.
"After five records there had to be an element of 'what the fuck?’” Thorpe explains, leading one to wonder if “He The Colossus” line, “Not enough fucking and too much of wondering“ is a jab at their past selves. It was eight years ago when Thorpe first claimed he was tough, and nowhere is there such a stark example of their evolution - or devolution - from painstaking wordplay to outright brashness than the contrast in lyricism from then to now. On Limbo, Panto’s “The Club Of Fathomless Love” he dynamically delivers, “But I'm not a soft touch / And I won't been seen as such / So full with fierce fathomless love / I spit and have spats to be tough / Show I'm not soppy and stuff.” Put that up against “Tough Guy”’s simple assertion of "Now I'm all fucked up / And I can't stand up / So I better suck it up / Like a tough guy would,“ and it’s clear a lot has changed. Perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy, the former’s opening line of, “Oh when I'm older I'll hear this moment and I'll laugh haha,” seems quite prescient.
Adding to the bravado, Dallas, Texan recording and John Congleton (St. Vincent, The Walkmen, Modest Mouse, Spoon) production makes it a sonically enthralling ride as well. Album opener “Big Cat” extends the metaphor of Wild Beasts’ rightful place atop the food chain as Thorpe’s sultry vocals and a steady percussion backing climax in a brief glimpse of some sharp guitar fangs that leave you wanting more. Though perhaps overly repetitive, “Alpha Female” has a delightfully thick slink to it plus some electrifying shreds of St. Vincent-esque guitar tones, while lead single “Get My Bang”’s funk foundation shakes with fuzzed out bass bombs over a simple, linear drum base. Following track and final single “Celestial Creatures” is a space-y track that maintains a steadily uplifting locomotion of synth undulations, boosted by more ever-elegant crooning. Later, Thorpe breathily threatens to surpass and consume the most vital dark meat the god of beauty and desire himself has to offer on “Eat Your Heart Out Adonis” before some sleazy riffs throw their hot weight around.
Baritone foil Tom Fleming, though not as vocally prominent as on past releases, has his not-to-be-under-appreciated moments too, most notably “2BU,” a brooding album standout built upon stutter step percussion and the unsettling confession, “Now I’m the type of man / Who wants to watch the world burn.” Also present is the proof that old habits die hard; for all its reckless abandon, Boy King's closer “Dreamliner” is a lovely relapse into the delicate control of records past, leaving you to wonder just what direction they’re headed in the end.
For all the straightforward sensuality of Wild Beasts’ newfound give-no-fucks mentality, it would seem their name is increasingly appropriate for such libidinous swagger. That being said, long-term fans of the band behind the moniker may come away feeling disappointed had they been looking for more of the same clever intricacies that drew them in at first. All but the hardest critics will get their “bang” regardless.
Through years of lusciously calculated yet carnal emoting Wild Beasts have earned the blurred line of irony now surrounding their unabashed virility (take, for example, the brilliant satire of 2009’s “All The King’s Men”). Newly emboldened, there’s an unflinching self-awareness of what it means to be the priapic pinnacle that is man in a rock ’n’ roll band, and they’re not afraid to seek out an equally satyric “Alpha Female” to prowl the stage with. And why not? It’s all just “self-loathing” anyway, and if life truly is merely a desperate race to mate before the crush of death then misery loves close, intimate company. "No getting it right / No getting it wrong / Just getting it on," indeed.