There’s an old adage that proclaims: “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Where you end up isn’t as important as the memories you make along the way and the experiences that are formed while travelling from start to finish. Blue Weekend, the third album from British alt-rockers Wolf Alice, is about as satisfying a journey as you can experience.
Opener ‘The Beach’ is a bit of a red herring: it sets the stage for an album that seems like it will be a slow-burning and synthetic slice of alt-pop. But the truth is, ‘The Beach’ leads off an album full of dynamic shifts and wild swings through fury and fun, an album that can cover anxiety, joy, anger, goofiness, self-doubt, self-confidence, and everything in between without ever getting lost along the way.
I should mention up front that there’s a gimmick on Blue Weekend that I’m a complete fool for: the crossfading of tracks into one another. It’s an auditory illusion. A musical magic trick, one meant to reinforce that these disparate songs are meant to hold together as a cohesive unit. It’s the kind of thing that music critics and LP nerds love, but the listening public likely doesn’t care too much for. Wolf Alice abandon the idea after the first three tracks, but it left an indelible impression on my brain because it primed me to think of the album not just as a collection of songs but as something greater than the sum of its parts, and just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.
There’s another gimmick to give the impression of cohesion: the reprise of ‘The Beach’ as the album’s concluding track, bringing the experience full circle. ‘The Beach II’ is a spacier and more contemplative track than the initial version, working to give you a sense of closure as the previous 40 minutes of music are still being digested.
I keep saying these are gimmicks, because they are, but they are effective gimmicks. They serve their purpose to maximum emotional effect, to the extent that you come out of Blue Weekend much in the same way you come out of watching a great film: the emotional journey, from beginning to end, leaves you satisfied that you’ve invested all this time and energy into a fully worthwhile piece of media. I would call it “art”, but that feels pretentious and unnecessary, especially for a band that puts a strong emphasis on amusement and intoxicating energy.
That is to say that Blue Weekend gives you the best of both worlds. If you want emotionally moving meditations, key into ‘No Hard Feelings’, ‘How Can I Make It OK?’ or ‘The Last Man on Earth’. If you want hard-edged rock and roll that you can scream-sing along to, give a listen to ‘Smile’ or ‘Play the Greatest Hits’. All tracks come prepackaged with witty, incisive lyrics that can be droll, hilarious, and heartbreaking, sometimes all within the same song. Whichever listening experience you’re in the mood for, Wolf Alice has the perfect song for you.
One would think that Wolf Alice couldn’t get any higher: 2017’s Visions of a Life was an enrapturing rabbit hole of humour, heartache, and hostility that quickly had critics clamouring over themselves to call them the best new band in Britain. The album won the Mercury Prize in 2018. It found its way to a number of Best of the Year lists. How do you top that?
By keeping your ambitions sky high. Blue Weekend doesn’t just entertain the idea that a rock band is worth obsessing over: it fully embodies the notion. Wolf Alice have released another brilliant, catchy, and euphoric blast of indie rock that is designed to be played over and over again. Once the final sounds fade away, the first thing you want to do is start the journey all over again.