Album Review: Wild Beasts – Limbo, Panto

Back in July, I posted a recommendation to watch out for the latest Wild Beasts album, then only available in the UK.  Well, looks like as of November 4th, the album has finally reached the shores of America, so now I can write a proper review rather than basing a post off of internet clips as I did before.

Limbo, Panto is a weird fucking album.  Wild Beasts are making music unlike anyone else out there right now, and sometimes it works, while other times it doesn’t.  Describing their sound is nearly impossible, but I will make an attempt.  The music itself is a mixture of thumping, almost disco-like bass and drums, highlighted by Ben Little’s stabbing guitar work.  The result of all of these elements is a workman-like, chugging backdrop for the real star of the show, frontman Hayden Thorpe and his unconventional singing voice.

Thorpe is probably going to be the deal-breaker for many Wild Beasts listeners.  For the majority of the record, Thorpe sings in an unusually high, womanly falsetto, on occasion interrupted by his sharp growls.  It’s a strange voice to be sure, probably one of the more unique vocals in rock today.  Thorpe’s delivery is extremely theatrical, with many songs breaking down into carnival-esque experiments that could pass as showtunes from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s worst nightmares.  At times, the songs recall some of Freddie Mercury’s more operatic work, perhaps mixed with some of the vocal oddness of Antony and the Johnsons, while at other times it sounds like nothing else around.  Thorpe’s lyrics range from the yearning theatrics of the Decemberists, and at times give way to eyebrow-raising oddness, such as in “Wandering Wanderers:” I’d swear by my own cock and balls/and the family home’s four walls/there’d be no treason, this season

Some songs are more restrained, such as lead single “The Devil’s Crayon,” in which bassist Tom Fleming and his more conventional voice take over vocal duties for the verses.  The result is an excellent dance rock tune.  Another song with a more cumbersome title, “Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants,” along with album opener “Vigil For A Fuddy Duddy,” plays up the dance rock beats while toning down Thorpe’s penchant for Rodgers and Hammerstein.  Other songs choose to just let loose with the theatrical bombast, such as “Cheerio Chaps, Goodbye” and “She Purred While I Grrred.” 

Wild Beasts seem to be at their best when they control the urge to write a stage musical and instead stick to the rock songs.  However, those oddball tendencies do give them an unusual amount of flair, and this alien record seems to exist outside of the world of conventional popular music.  If you can get past Thorpe’s voice, I would recommend picking up the album just to see what a truly original and creative band is able to do before cynical bastards like myself force them to give up their unbridled creative tendencies and write just a straight up rock record.

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