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"Winter was long, now we've come to feast
We may be savage and raw, but at the core
We've higher needs."
Singer/guitarist Hayden Thorpe and singer/bassist Tom Fleming constitute one damn fine and distinguished songwriting team within the Alternative/Indie genre, and Wild Beasts’ fourth full-length release, Present Tense, is the British band’s most ambitious, focused and accomplished album to date (as of 2014). Present Tense could very well be Wild Beasts’ Black Celebration (the album that took Depeche Mode to new heights, both creatively and commercially), with its tales of yearning, lust, and sexual debauchery, and its emphasis on both vintage and modern synth sounds.
Wanderlust kicks off proceedings with rigid drums and assertive bass, and then a smoldering, slightly ominous synth slowly fades in, upon which Hayden Thorpe states the following: “We’re decadent beyond our means” and “Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck”. It’s an effective start to the album and sets the scene for the unapologetic declarations of hedonism that are about to play out. Nature Boy is based on a simple, slow beat sustained by Chris Talbot’s subtle snare drum and bongos, while a pulsating synth underscores the sleazy, callous lyrics that deal with adultery and selfish sexual acts (“The things she said she'd never do / A little fun for me, and none for you”).
Mecca depicts spiritual sex as a sort of religious experience, hence the title, a metaphorical reference to the pilgrimage to Mekka in Saudi Arabia where several million people of varying nationalities worship in unison (“I'm a pilgrim and you're the shrine to / All the lovers they loved before us and breathed in this ether / Where the body goes, the mind will follow soon after”). And the gorgeous Sweet Spot, featuring a gently chugging guitar riff and sporadic Martin Gore-inspired analog synth, is a paean to orgasm that once again compares fulfilling sex to a spiritual compatibility with the words “It’s in the holy ghost of air / Between two hands held in prayer / There is a godly state/ Where the real and the dream may consummate.”
After all the narratives of male lust and sexual debaucheries, Daughters comes off as an ironic –- almost perverse -– reflection on fatherly love and angst, an acknowledgment of the predator-like behavior towards young women that all fathers dread (“I'm taping up the windows and the doors / I'm nailing all my pretty things to the floor”). It’s an honest account of “Boys will be boys”. And they will be. That is, at least until they’ve found a woman they don’t wish to live without, real love -– that’s when they mature and become men –- a scenario that’s conveyed by the smooth A Simple Beautiful Truth whose uplifting message is heightened by a shimmering synth motif, and the romantic, heavily Depeche Mode-indebted ballad Palace, which exposes the shallow emptiness of meaningless sex and celebrates true love ("Winter was long, now we've come to feast / We may be savage and raw, but at the core / We've higher needs"). Present Tense is a joy to listen to from start to finish: the songwriting, musicianship and production, it’s all impeccable, and despite the sparse arrangements/instrumentation the songs all sound full-bodied and powerful.