“I like it messy, don’t you make it neat” aren’t words that you’d normally expect to pour out of Hayden Thorpe’s usually intellectual mouth. Just as startling is the parental advisory label stamped on this album, by Spotify for explicit language.
However, Boy King brings out another meaning of the Wild Beasts alias. Previously the band musically interpreted the definition of “wild” as being daring, unusual and open-minded on the progressive indie of their first four albums, exemplified by Hayden Thorpe’s acquired taste operatic falsetto, abstract literature-inspired lyrics and unpredictable production geek comparable with Everything Everything and Foals.
On their latest effort, “wild” is biologically defined. The act of being instinctive and barbaric. It’s sexually-charged in it’s primitive nature – with the band stating in interviews that even in the digital age, humans will always require a physical sexual appetite. Yet it’s clever, as within all its testosterone, it simultaneously questions masculinity in the modern world (how it compares the alpha female and its role in society) in a similar vain to Real Lies’s Real Life album from last year.
With slick gelled back hair and a leather jacket, Hayden Thorpe courts a girl with Justin Timberlake movement in the surprisingly mainstream directed video of “Get My Bang”. It’s the first single off their fifth album, and it sets the tone for Boy King’s masculine concept.
Thorpe’s usually fragile voice is reshaped into being sexy and provocative, something also noticeable on the air-gasping on “Eat Your Heart Adonis”. So it’s unsurprising that “Get My Bang” is not a song about love – their approach to companionship on predecessor Present Tense – it’s transparently and unashamedly about sexual urges.
Removing all romance and courtship, it cuts to the chase “Let’s the players play, it’s the boy’s birthday and if they’re hungry then just let them eat cake”. “2BU” is also dominant, macho and dangerous with the lines “Now I’m the type of man who wants to watch the world burn. I hope you run, best hope that I don’t find you first”.
Power and dominance is a reoccurring theme. The status of godful herculean characters in mythology and the animal kingdom are conceptualized in the album; from the Metropolis-esque album cover (like a male version of Hel), to mentions of “mega-fauna”, to “deity” to the food chain hierarchy on the second single “Big Cat”.
Yet’s there’s a contradiction in the album’s title Boy King as the record compares to the two sides to a male, the eagerness to be seen as powerful and the truth behind the act; a flawed gender seeking approval. Exemplified nicely by the confession:
“Now I’m all f**ked up and I can’t stand up, so I better suck it up like a tough guy would” from “Tough Guy”. Furthermore, The Adonis complex is a paranoia within males about their bodies meeting the stereotypical muscular requirement and the alluring “Eat Your Heart Out Adonis” reminds us of this complication within men.
Recorded in Dallas, Texas with American producer John Congleton (Anna Calvi, Franz Ferdinand, Marilyn Manson), there’s fuzzy and distorted tricks in the ambitious production (including a good use of mono vs stereo space in tracks such as “Dreamliner”) and an irresistible rhythmic edge to the album that makes this Wild Beasts LP stand out independently from Smother and Two Dancers.
There’s also a rock confidence (elements of Muse, The Black Keys and Daft Punk) in the album that may seem like Wild Beasts are swapping a crowd of cerebral hipsters for rock-n-roll stardom but it fits nicely in massaging the masculine-ego concept, especially in moments of guitar freedom and amp inventiveness Demonstrating that Wild Beasts are musically, lyrically and mentally wilder than ever before.
Wild Beasts’ Boy King is out now via Domino Recording Co, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Matt Hobbs