It’s rarely a good sign when all of the singles on an album are placed at the start. It’s almost an admission to the listener that says ‘Look, this isn’t great but at least the first couple of tunes are alright and you can just switch it off after that’. The only issue here is that even the singles on offer aren’t particularly inspiring. Wolf Alice’s sophomore offering, Visions Of A Life seems to lose all of the effortlessness and vitality of its predecessor and is bland at its best; cringeworthy at its worst. If this isn’t the epitome of a “difficult second album” then I don’t know what is.
Wolf Alice are a band that while not perfect, always had an ineffable quality of cool about them. Their first release, My Love Is Cool was packed with enough riffs to arm a teenage guitarist for months while also possessing a very astute pop sensibility. It was a statement that the band had substance as well as style. Sadly though, this substance has disappeared and the band are now in a crisis of identity.
There are so many different iterations of Wolf Alice in the first 10 minutes of Visions Of A Life that it makes you wonder just what exactly are this band trying to be. Opener ‘Heavenward’ feels like a diluted My Bloody Valentine. With a crumbling wall of sound it has all of the bark of the shoegaze icons but with none of the bite. Ellie Roswell’s vocals are lush and fantastic here but ultimately the song fails to deliver. The album then quickly drifts into the pop punk massacre that is ‘Yuk Foo’. This two minute spew of obscene lyrics tries so desperately hard to be provocative that it’s hard not to wince as Roswell screams “I wanna fuck everybody I meet”. There isn’t much time to dwell on it however as ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ suddenly transports the listener back to 2003, and not in a good way. It’s a song which wouldn’t be out of place as a Razorlight b-side complete with lifeless guitars and uninspired riffs.
Once the initial confusion of the first three songs subsides the album has the chance to breath and thankfully it reaches a more consistent tone. ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ is by far the strongest song on the record and perhaps the only one worthy of being in the same pool as older gems such as ‘Bros’ and ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’. Its chorus is nothing short of anthemic and the spoken word delivery in the verses works beautifully. We get to hear a more honest Roswell here, who far more genuine than anything we’ve heard so far. The remainder of the record seems to drown in post-punk mediocrity as none of the riffs or melodies land quite as well as they did on their debut. There are some standout moments in ‘Planet Hunter’ and ‘Formidable Cool’ though, which are reminders of the charm that won over so many fans when the band first set out.
Ultimately Visions Of A Life fails to deliver any meaningful content. ‘Sky Musings’ is a good example of this. This tale of in flight entertainment and a fear of flying is trying to connect to some deeper analogy but what exactly that is is unclear. It exposes a band that just hasn’t had the chance to experience anything worth writing about in the 12 short months since ending a whirlwind global tour in support of their debut. The unlikely success of a guitar band like Wolf Alice is refreshing in this day and age but they may fast be approaching the indie landfill occupied by their noughties counterparts if their next move isn’t something more worthy of their acclaim. Hugh O’Dwyer