It’s ironic that a record called Present Tense begins with such a bizarrely retro sound.
Wild Beasts’ fourth album’s opener and lead single, Wanderlust, unfurls into life with a synth blast that is so ominous, portentous and steeped in the 1981 sound of the Human League that you expect to hear Phil Oakey’s resonant baritone, rather than the keening, Antony Hegarty-like falsetto of Hayden Thorpe.
The Kendal band have always been steeped in eighties stylings, of course, and they are to the fore in another set of immaculately crafted, carefully overwrought offerings. The attention to detail is absolute: they took a year off the album-tour-album treadmill to record Present Tense, and it shows.
When it works, it is sublime. A Simple Beautiful Truth is a gossamer-light snatch of pure pop that justifies its ambitious and audacious title, with Thorpe’s tremulous vocal suggesting a man seeing the world for the very first time. Unlike Hurts, they avoid falling into the trap of sounding a mere period piece.
At other points, though, Present Tense can be so baroque and dense that it becomes cloying. Listening to the appropriately titled Sweet Spot, you feel as if you are drowning in aural syrup: A Dog’s Life is every bit as mawkish as you’d expect a song about the death of a faithful pet to be.
They are worth seeing when they tour next month – but you’ll also have plenty of chances to slip away to the bar.