From humble beginnings performing at open mic events to winning a Mercury Prize for their sophomore album Visions of a Life, alternative rock band Wolf Alice has always strived to reach greater heights. They continue to push the envelope on their third album Blue Weekend, the culmination of all the best work the band has produced so far. Although the band opts for a poppier sound, straying further from the rock and punk that blasted them into the indie mainstream, they don’t lose their signature knack for storytelling.
The album begins with “The Beach,” which is deceptively simple on first listen. Ellie Rowsell, the lead vocalist of Wolf Alice, is only accompanied by the soft ticking plucks of a guitar in the background. The song’s grandeur is slowly revealed one verse at a time through a gradual crescendo and the addition of new instruments before suddenly reaching a majestic chorus as Rowsell’s voice grows more and more emotional. Crushing drums and haunting yet angelic harmonies create a euphoric rush of fervent passion, demonstrating Rowsell’s disoriented state as she lies “on the floor” imagining she’s “not there.” There’s even a reference to Shakespeare’s Macbeth that further reflects Rowsell’s seemingly tragic and isolated circumstances. The track and the play share the same opening lines, setting the scene for someone’s downfall. In this case, it seems like Rowsell is the main victim. Her “moment of peace” from “a stone from the beach” cannot outweigh her times of “circling the drain,” and these uncertain conditions mirror her almost desperate cries which conclude the track.
“Play the Greatest Hits” keeps the energy going with a punkish sound, a callback to the band’s older days. To adapt to the different genre, Rowsell changes her voice to be sharper and edgier than the one she used on “The Beach.” She screams and yells constantly throughout the song, eschewing any semblance of a façade and vocalizing her inner struggles. Rowsell feels obliged to find “the taste of someone’s lips,” yet when she does, she falls “in love with the first f**king creep.” Even as she calls for “all the greatest hits,” she believes it “isn’t loud enough.” This cry becomes more vehement towards the end of the track where shouts from Rowsell sometimes interrupt her unanswered pleas. The distraught character we first meet in “The Beach” burns with even more furious agony on “Play the Greatest Hits,” and this is just the first stage of her evolution.
The lead single off of Blue Weekend, “The Last Man On Earth,” continues the album’s journey through emotions by exploring the arrogance and narcissism of the human race. A quiet piano plays while Rowsell’s plaintive voice decries the delusion of a man who always wants “a light to shine” on him. She also references Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat's Cradle in the opening verse when she questions if this character waits for his “dancing lessons to be sent from God,” indicating that even the smallest events become spiritual knowledge to him. This muted expression of concern is misleading, however, as it slowly builds to a more epic sound. Perhaps this musical sleight of hand functions as Wolf Alice’s trademark. As she highlights this person’s ego, claiming that he is “always seeking” what he doesn’t have, the song explodes into a dramatic melody with the full volume of drums, guitars, and Rowsell’s heavenly falsettos. The man ends up achieving his dreams of wealth, yet he sacrifices his friends who he "hardly" hears a word from, and his dignity after “lies after lies.” Even if this track is not directly related to the saga presented thus far, it maintains the feeling of a whirlwind of sensations, both good and bad, that the album so heavily emphasizes.
“No Hard Feelings” takes a step back from the layered production but still retains Rowsell’s touching narratives. Other than Rowsell’s heavily reverbed voice, the only other instrument is a guitar repeating the same chords. This simple yet charming accompaniment serves as an appropriate background to the sequel of “The Beach” and “Play the Greatest Hits.” Rowsell is clearly at a calmer, more rested state, recognizing that falling out with a long–time partner “has been hard enough” but believes that there will be “no hard feelings” the next time they meet. At the end of “No Hard Feelings,” Rowsell thinks that they “both will take the win,” a reference to a battle mentioned in “The Beach.” On both songs, Rowsell believes that victory will be shared, but she has accepted this fate from two perspectives: one of hysteria and one of reminiscence. Even on a roller coaster of ups and downs, Rowsell is steadfast in her beliefs.
As the title implies, the closing track “The Beach II” is a continuation of the opening track “The Beach,” but it is also the end to the thrilling adventure of Blue Weekend. The two tracks have some shared elements, such as the constant guitar plucks or the emphasis on nature, but Rowsell is in a much happier mood on “The Beach II.” Even the guitar sounds more open and endearing, and Rowsell focuses on the natural world’s positive characteristics. For instance, she compares the consistency of the tide to her “girls on the beach / happy ever after,” and she describes her and her friends as “Mother Nature’s daughters.” It’s the perfect blissful conclusion to a jarring story, one that visits a wide array of emotions and its consequences.
Blue Weekend is undoubtedly a masterclass at creating oscillating plotlines, captivating the reader much like a novel does. Wolf Alice is not merely a band—the members are also skilled storytellers. As the band continues to dig deeper into their new pop sound, they will never lose their ability to write lyrical tales, one with great instrumental climaxes, poignant conflicts, and unpredictable conclusions. This story may last for a lifetime, chronicling the world of lust, arrogance, and regret, yet it could also last for merely a blue weekend. It’s up to the listener to decide how to live through it.