Boy King

Wild Beasts

Domino, 2016

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan


Hailing from Kendal, England, Wild Beasts formed in 2002, and over the course of the next decade and a half, they gained a reputation as one of the most respected and acclaimed indie bands around. It’s always hard describing a band like Wild Beasts’ music, as it has varied over the years; they’re always experimental, but sometimes seemingly to their detriment. If they were a film genre, I’d say it’s art house. The band had a fiercely loyal early following, which at times expanded beyond their native land, but never on a large scale. That’s not to say they didn’t deserve a greater audience – I for one think they should have, but as with many bands these days, it’s an all too common thought.

Since releasing their debut album Limbo, Panto in 2008, the band was constantly at work either in the studio or on the road. Their 2011 effort Smother was so highly rated that the band spent the next two years touring the word behind it before heading back to the studio and cutting Present Tense, released in early 2014. On Present Tense, the band employed a more minimalistic approach to their soundscape, thus somewhat making a more accessible record. The falsetto vocals were still there to keep it from straying too far from their established sound.

For their fifth studio album, the band headed to Dallas, Texas and began work alongside producer John Congleton, also a writer, musician, and obsessive programmer, who has produced and electronically aided (for better or worse) works by the likes of The Killers, Marilyn Manson, St. Vincent, and Blondie. I saw the credits for this album prior to my purchasing it, so when I read that Congleton had produced it, I was instantly curious. The Beasts were no strangers to throwing a bit of electronica into the mix, but they hadn’t gone full synth pop mode – until now, of course. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Boy King was the result of the collaboration with Congleton and featured the line-up of Hayden Thorpe (vocals, bass, keyboards and programming), Ben Little (guitars, keys and programming), Tom Flemming (vocals, keys, programming, and samples), and Chris Talbot (drums, keys, and percussion).

This album is credited as “a concept album focusing on self-destructive effects of modern day masculinity.” However, I feel it’s more the boys lamenting over the fact that the “lad culture” of their youth is a somewhat outdated one which they feel the need to defend. Its passive aggressive and almost petulant lyrics at times let down what otherwise could have been a wonderful synth-pop inspired experiment.

Sonically, Boy King sounds sharp and moody, and as with anything that Congleton produces, it treads that fine line of being polished, but not overly so. Thorpe’s beautiful falsetto vocals are always a treat to hear, but he tones it down a bit here and explores other areas of his voice, which is a nice touch.

There are some genuinely exciting tracks here: the distorted guitars and punchy rhythm of “Tough Guy” is a highlight, as is the superb electro-pop of “Get My Bang.” The understated opener “Big Cat” allows Thorpe’s vocals to shine. It’s a seductive approach that is in contrast to the chest-puffing lyrics: “On heat, big cat got a mean streak / No match for this athlete.”

The lads explore these themes addressing their sexuality, chasing women, and dealing with competition not as a social commentary but more as a pissing contest. “Alpha Female” is the third track into the album and it’s already getting repetitive; however, the sheer brilliance that is “Celestial Creatures” makes up for it.

“2BU” is a softly executed but again menacing in its dreamlike state, and “He The Colossus” turns up the self-pity to maniacal levels (“Do I dare to disturb the universe? / Lest I crush the softest among us / The universe has us locked in a death spin / Not enough fucking and too much of wondering”).

More of the same follows with casual hook-ups explored on “Ponytail” (Flemming takes the lead vocals for this one) and “Eat Your Heart Out Adonis” (“Carnivores just want the dark meat”) which are both fine examples of modern-day synth pop. But by now, with the singular theme in constant exploration, there’s no more life left in this thing.

Right at the very end, we get the only glimpse of a vulnerable, tortured soul with the meditative ballad “Dreamliner,” which Thorpe stated was crucial to the album’s narrative. After all the laddish bravado, there’s a glimpse of the boy inside the man. It’s a nice note to end the album on, but it also shows that had these themes been explored on a deeper and more nuanced level, Boy King could have been so much more than a one-trick pony, albeit a sonically enchanting one.

Post-script: Wild Beasts amicably disbanded in 2017, each looking to pursue different interests with Thorpe dropping his minimalist solo debut album Diviner last year.

Rating: B-

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