If there were prizes being awarded for the most beautiful-sounding record of recent times, Smother would be a shoo-in. Opener ‘Lion’s Share’ is Wild Beasts stripped down to the proverbial loincloth. It’s minimalism blown up and projected across a desolate night cityscape. Hayden Thorpe’s falsetto croons tenderly about the comfort to be found in the dark, which is how Smother begins. This, their third album, is the glorious sound of a band realising exactly who they are and indulging delightfully in it.
There’s no showing off here, no sense of trying to impress anyone other than themselves. The stupid journalese thing to say would be something about how these Wild Beasts have now been tamed but that’s not exactly correct – it’s more that they’re now in complete control. Songs are delicately constructed; fragile pulsing things with gorgeous synthetic flutters. Without wanting to sound like either a Dido press release or Alan Partridge, the experience of Smother is something akin to Thorpe’s proposition of being surrounded by a “warm bath”, as referenced in the stunning ‘Bed of Nails’.
Indeed, ‘Bed of Nails’ wouldn’t sound out of place on Hounds Of Love, thanks to its wonderfully relentless rhythm and warbling vocals. But it’s not the only reference point contained within the grooves of Smother – the spaciousness of Talk Talk and the melancholic blissfulness of a band like Stars of the Lid are audible. That’s not to take away from the fact that the essence of this record was present in their previous album, Two Dancers. Except here, most of the guitars have been removed and replaced with hazy synths – essentially, this is Wild Beasts refined and made smoother.
In a sense, an extra ‘o’ in the title would deliver a more precise description of the record than its current moniker. Where Thorpe previously flipped from falsetto to guttural growl, the latter has now been banished for an easier, more ear-friendly result. But Tom Fleming’s vocals also shine here and the interplay between the two singers, as on ‘Reach A Bit Further’, reminds you why Wild Beasts are currently unparalleled. Where their lyrics previously verged on the mildly indecent, similar lyrics on this smoother-sounding record somehow take on a different nuance. So even when Thorpe sings, “I take you in my mouth like a lion takes his game” in the aforementioned opening track, it somehow seems to connote devotional love rather than simply allude to animal sexuality.
While Two Dancers made apparent that Wild Beasts had become a great band, Smother confirms that they have now transformed into nothing less than an important band.