From Limbo, Panto to Present Tense, there’s been a really clear progression in Wild Beasts’ work. Since the school boyish style of their debut – where cheesy chips may have been sung of – each subsequent album has been less brash and more introspective. 2014’s Present Tense was filled with beautiful love songs, such as ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’ and ‘Mecca’, with album closer ‘Palace’ feeling almost like a perfect end point to the four-album story their discography told.
So it’s best to see Boy King as something new. Rather than simply making Present Tense 2, the band have almost hit the reset button, returning to the loudness and in-your-faceness of their earlier days. Of course, the album definitely isn’t Limbo, Panto 2 either; there is more emphasis on electronic, the lyrics are simpler – think ‘Tough Guy’ rather than ‘Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants’ – and it is definitely their most accessible album rather than their least accessible one.
But both albums are obsessed with the same thing: sex. Boy King opens with ‘Big Cat’, where themes of sexual dominance show clearly through the song’s chorus – ‘Big Cat top of the food chain’ – and the song generally sets the tone for the rest of the album. As a whole, Boy King reads as a statement from Wild Beasts saying that they’re done being ‘touchy feely’… They just want to fuck.
Though is the album any good? In my opinion, yes. While I don’t think I could ever love any song on this album as much as say, ‘Hooting & Howling’, there aren’t any truly bad songs on Boy King. From beginning to end, it’s just relentless and menacing. In dialling their masculinity up to 11, the band have produced some explosive songs – the sort that could easily fit into any party playlist. It’s easy to see Boy King as them attempting to appeal to a wider audience – I don’t think Radio 1 would ever play a song called ‘She Purred, While I Grrred’ – but even if this is so, at least it has led to them producing something fresh.
In terms of the ultra-masculine persona the band sport through most of the album, ‘Tough Guy’ demonstrates it best. Though the lyrics mostly sound nothing like classic Wild Beasts, ‘Now I’m all fucked up and I can’t stand up / So I better suck it up like a tough guy would’, there’s just something about the song that makes me want to bash my head. ‘2BU’ is another highlight, with Tom Fleming discussing his desire to steal the life of another. Things get increasingly creepy as it progresses, and the moaning synths compliment the dark lyrics well: ‘I want your face, I want your skin / I want your name, I want to live’.
But even though I enjoyed these songs greatly, the best parts of the album are still the fleeting moments when the band show their vulnerable side. While ‘Celestial Creatures’ is mostly a loud and roaring song, there is an underlying vulnerability present throughout it. And, in the last minute, the heavily layered song is stripped down and a piano is introduced, while Thorpe almost whimpers the song’s lyrics: ‘These are blessed times that we’re living in / Down here on Earth all is forgiven’. Album closer, ‘Dreamliner’, is great for similar reasons. After nine songs of almost constant sexual lust, we are given another peek under the masculine persona. It’s a beautiful song, and one that wouldn’t have felt out of place on the band’s last album, Present Tense.
Boy King may be Wild Beasts’ weakest album, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great. I respect the band for trying something new, even at the risk of alienating old fans. And if you haven’t listened to them before, then this might be a good place to start.
Essential Songs: ‘Tough Guy’, ‘Celestial Creatures’, ‘Dreamliner’.