The Wombats - Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life
by Niamh Harrison
Metaphors! Similes! Symbolism! These may seem like casual tenets of song-writing, but with their newest album, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, The Wombats have gone into imagery overdrive. From songs like Cheetah Tongue, Lemon to A Knife Fight, and Black Flamingo to the arguably more straightforward I Don’t Know Why I Like You But I Do, this album is riddled with seemingly bizarre symbolism – but that’s always been a part and parcel of the charm of the Wombats. It’s incredible that the album is so cohesive when the lads are all in separate countries: frontman Matt ‘Murph’ Murphy has settled in LA, drummer Dan Haggis in London, and bassist Tord Øverland Knudsen in Oslo, so writing was a solo affair before an intense two-week recording period. Despite these challenges, the album is packed with contagious, youthful songs, and the boys will have plenty of time with each other next month, as they are about to embark on a sold-out UK tour in March.
Just over a decade since the release of A Guide To Love, Loss and Desperation, The Wombats are bigger than ever, adding to their already zealous fanbase, through a steady stream of live performances and an omnipresence at festivals over the years, along with a steady release of new music, (their last album, Glitterbug landed them Number 5 in 2015). Because of this, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life is their most anticipated album to date, and it simultaneously brings the familiar and beloved indie sound of the classic Wombats bangers, along with some experiments that, for the most part, succeed. Although building on their established back-catalogue, this album is unquestionably a maturation from the Liverpudlian trio, exploring the uncertainties of adulthood, and reflections on heartbreak and failed relationships.
The first of singles released prior to the album, Lemon To A Knife Fight, encompasses perfectly The Wombats’ capacity to revel in the absurd. Frontman Matthew Murphy says “the song just kind of fell out of me”, after bingeing on David Lynch, and arguing with his wife on Mulholland Drive, which explains the surreal twist the lyrics place on a toxic relationship : “I’m unhinged and you’re undone / I’m not getting out of here alive / I brought a lemon to a knife fight”. It’s an instant classic, one which you’d imagine a repeat favourite in indie discos: fun, driven, catchy, and full of upbeat guitar riffs to dance to.
The confusion of lyrics in the album’s opener, Cheetah Tongue won’t stop you singing about your “orange cola”, cutting off your “cheetah tongue”, and your hands shaking “like jellyfish” when your crush is near. The colourful imagery is quintessential Wombats, emulating the confusion of adulthood and relationships, coupled with the fun of neo-nineties vibes. The song Black Flamingo has an absolutely filthy hook that pulls you in and forces you to hit the dancefloor, while still including Murph’s lyrical witticisms (“Give me a leg to stand on”).
Out Of My Head is an absolutely huge tune with a gritty bassline and phenomenal riffs. It is thematically concerned with feeling overwhelmed, touching on issues of mental health (which seems to be more and more common amongst indie bands), with evocative lyrics such as: “I’m losing my grip here / I’m off the deep end / I wanna come back to me/ I wanna get out of my head”. The passion and intensity with which Murph sings this makes it no wonder that this has been a hit with critics, and undoubtedly will prove a hit with the masses. Murphy has himself suffered with depression and anxiety from his teen years, so this one feels particularly genuine and poignant.
The album of course, however, does not maintain tempo for all its tracks, otherwise those upbeat anthems would be less effective. While the first half of the album may be familiar in tone to fans of The Wombats and indie pop, the second half of the album allows them to experiment with genre and inspirations; The Wombats delve into post-punk with White Eyes, which stands apart from the album as unlike anything else they’ve done before. Ice Cream has a riff reminiscent of The Arctic Monkeys, while a New Romantic slant can be seen in the album closer I Don’t Know Why I Like You But I Do. Though there are nods to the synths and production of previous albums, Beautiful People features much more prominently the more organic sounds of guitars, drums and bass, and often incorporating Madchester vibes from the Liverpudlian marsupials.
While The Wombats aren’t exactly breaking new ground with this new album, the songs are consistently enjoyable, with very few weaker links (my least favourite is I Only Wear Black, but that’s literally because it’s the slowest song – it’s still great). The Wombats are not to be underrated – rather than dismiss them as part of the ocean of indie talents, understand they are exceptional for their capacity to produce memorable tunes coupled with eloquent, satirical, colourful lyricism. Listen to Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life for fun and absurd pop bangers that will have you singing along to a string of words you’d never have expected to put together.