Wild Beasts - Two Dancers
If there’s complexity to be found anywhere, it certainly is in the Yob/Friday night culture of Leeds, so say Wild Beasts. With their second album the band dove head first into the murky waters of masculinity, to unravel its complexities. Only in the grim hills of Northern England would you find yourself asking what makes thugs tick, at first the clichés come to mind; brutality, libido, bravado. Wild Beasts don’t try to dispel any of these characteristics rather they try to romanticise them, in order to make them more approachable for the music public. However, to state that the album is just a scientific examination of football hooligans on a night out would undermine Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming’s feelings of estrangement and loss. Two Dancers is an album that uses two voices, the sensitive soul and the thuggish lad; to embrace the problematic role of men in today’s culture of metro sexuality and formulaic Calvin Klein adverts... Many in the musical world have tried to divide Wild Beasts’ singers into two personas; the sensitive one (Hayden Thorpe) and the bruiser (Tom Fleming). However, I feel that sells Fleming a little short and gives Thorpe too much credit, both are just as ‘sensitive’ and just as ‘complex’. Thorpe’s ‘persona’ (which if anything is a ridiculous term, I doubt he’s constructing himself, hyper-realists stop right there) per se is ‘the outsider’ as I prefer to think; his lyrics and delivery suggest that he is both fascinated and repulsed by the lad culture. He longs to be part of a group which he illustrates as immoral and dim-witted; he comes across as being ripped apart by his conflicting emotions. Whereas, Fleming’s ‘persona’ is ‘the frustrated insider’, his lyrics paint him as a member of the lad culture, but he’s dissatisfied with it, he doesn’t agree with the basic mentality of a group he to a certain extent sustains. The two act as counterparts to one another, they piece together the emotional hurricane surrounding lad culture. However, I digress; I am applying more of a theoretical reading of Two Dancers rather than a musical interpretation (note to self, never read Sartre again)... Moving on, speaking from a musical perspective Two Dancers is an album that indulges in an early-80s indie sound, such as Joy Division, New Order (by proxy) and Echo and the Bunnymen. In essence, they sound just like bands that would sell 7 records a year in England and sell by the truckload in America twenty years later. However, with Thorpe’s countertenor and confessional vocals, his voice is reminiscent of Jeff Buckley with the Cure as a backing band. Fleming’s voice also has a husky, honesty to it that isn’t too dissimilar to Tom Waits, he might lack the throat-infected hoarseness, but he can be just as acidic. Ben Little’s guitar work provides a terse minimalism, he shies away from simply repeating himself across verses and choruses, and instead adopts a style that allows his contributions to stand out and take attention away from the Thorpe-Fleming partnership, if momentarily. Chris Talbot too uses a bizarre style, focusing more on toms and bongos rather than cymbals and snares; he adds fluidity to the album to complement the sparse style of the songs... One of the most impressive attributes of Two Dancers is the breadth of its songs; whereas most album tracks often develop the sound laid down by the singles; Two Dancers is brimming with songs that develop their own sound independently. ‘Hooting and Howling’ and ‘We Still got the Taste Dancing on our Tongues’ demonstrate Thorpe’s inner turmoil, his irony and his longing. With an ambience that floods the songs, Thorpe constructs the heartfelt pouring of an outcast’s struggle. Whereas, ‘All the King’s Men’ and ‘Two Dancers (I and II)’ illustrate Fleming’s feelings as he watches the culture that he is part of rip itself apart. He mourns the change in the culture from one he was involved in to one that is self destructive, that leaves him alienated. Closing numbers ‘Underbelly’ and ‘Empty Nest’ are a detachment from the earlier sound; ‘Underbelly’ sounds like anti-folk crossed with trance (probably why Santander liked it so much). ‘Empty Nest’ sounds surprisingly like Elbow; Fleming’s vocal range matches Garvey’s and is supported by artisan approach... Two Dancers doesn’t quite push the listener into rethinking their prejudices against yobs, but it does illustrate how they aren’t all necessarily so monolithically appalling. Neither Thorpe or Fleming, nor Little or Talbot for that matter, attempt to profess their ‘laddish’ credentials, after all they aren’t Oasis or the Courteeners. Rather the give a more well-rounded account of the culture then you’re going to receive from Ann Widdecombe or Jeremy Clarkson. It isn’t ‘the sensitive one’ and ‘the bruiser’, rather ‘the outsider’ and ‘the informer’ (I fear I may be repeating myself). Pub-politics aside, Two Dancers is an album that above all entreats the listener into the lives and talent of four young men discovering and defining their identities.