I remember The Wombats being as genuinely wonky as their namesake. As a random release that somehow made its way across my desk some four years ago, the band's self-titled EP was fairly typical in its components; queue the kind of giddy globs of dance floor-ready beats, electrifying fretwork, and melodic hooks that bands like Bloc Party, Artic Monkeys, and Franz Ferdinand all seemed to flaunt the moment the calendar struck 2000. But where the Liverpool trio truly excelled, even then, lay in singer Matthew Murphy's hopelessly self-deprecating tales of woe, primarily in the (failed) pursuit of wooing the fairer sex. Slap-ups on the dance floor, fears of starring in a real life rom-com, pathetic crushes on disastrous women; these were self-confessionals rooted in awkward, teenage fears of beautiful women. I guess some men never seem to shake such social apprehensions. Set against any other musical backdrop, Murphy's pen might come off as sounding a bit drained. But his willingness to poke fun at his misadventures gels well with his band mates constructions, making the The Wombats relatable from the very start.
Fast forward, some 300,000 units in sale later, the band are back with a sophomore release called The Wombats Proudly Present - This Modern Glitch. And though the run up to album #2 sounds a bit harrowing (the band admitted to feeling "pretty broken...physically and mentally" in the wake of the demands of their debut), the new release finds the best of what The Wombats do wholly intact. Killer pop songs that bop about in the gooey grey matter of the mind, elevated this time around by those who had a hand in production. You might know them: Jacknife Lee (U2, R.E.M.), Eric Valentine, Rich Costey (Muse), TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek, and John Hill (Santogold, M.I.A.) all got paid on this one. The best example here is "Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)", a soaring, catchy-as-can-be single that has been lingering on the charts since its release last Fall. Here additional flourishes provide a darker, more sophisticated touch: pocket symphonies, for example, or an increasing reliance on synths that send choruses jumping out of the mix in new, magnificent ways.
Murph's old thematic standbys are still on display. Four years later, he's still having a go at himself, chronicling neurotic, social tendencies with a cheeky but determined self-awareness of his eccentricities. Opener "Our Perfect Disease" sketches a failing relationship instantly ("We all need someone to drive us mad"). In "Techno Fan", an unexpected interest in a night out serves as the perfect metaphor for a stagnant relationship. "Walking Disaster" echoes the similar sentiments of '07's "Little Miss Pipedream". And on "Anti-D" Murph insists, "Please allow me to be your anti-depressant. I too am prescribed as freely as any decongestant". Hope you don't mind him sharing.
Sure, these are self-detrimental tales, but wrapped in a faade of magnificent pop music, they're a freely prescribed phenomenon. People come to the table for stories, whether realized or implied, and Murph's tales of awkward encounters are abundant and amusing. It's madness, it's misfortune, it's hilarious, it's triumphant, all without being too formulaic. A high dosage of goof and gallivanting, somehow paying off in dance floor pastiche. Totally wonky I know, but hey, that's The Wombats.