Wet Leg - Debut Album & Launch Gig Review
I don’t wanna listen to your band
It feels almost difficult to introduce this band, after their unexpected and explosive arrival on the music scene. Wet Leg produced two consecutive viral hits, and continued to send us excellent singles until their self-titled debut came out last week. Today (13th April) was their album launch gig at the Sheffield Foundry, which I was lucky enough to get a ticket to (and a spot in the front row, with a pack of warm beer offered after the show).
A lot has been said about this band already, so don’t expect any particularly new insights from me - all I can say is that this band is riotously fun. I’ve been watching many of their music videos and live clips over the last few weeks - which, considering they only had five songs, says a lot about how listenable they are - and there is something so charming about their reaction to their sudden success. It’s a little disarming, after consistent deadpan delivery in their music videos, to see them laughing at a packed tent screaming “WHAT?” right back at them. It’s as if they didn’t realise such a viral hit would be dutifully memorised by fans.
I intended to post this blog on the day Wet Leg came out, but going to the album launch gig provided a convenient excuse to delay it after I failed to write the review on time… So, this post will be a bit different - I’ll give my thoughts on both the album, and the live show!
There’s been a lot already said about the tongue-in-cheek earworm Chaise Longue, with its steady riffs and brilliant loud-quiet dynamic, and the gloriously fun Wet Dream, full of foot-stomping drum fills and hilarious lyrics that find a great deal of fun in juxtaposing a creepy interaction against joyful, bouncy guitars. I’m not qualified to explain why these tracks are so good - they just are. They are, in fact, even better live - Wet Leg closed with Chaise Longue, and its searing guitar riffs sounded absolutely incredible in a packed venue. By now, they have embraced the audience participation and gleefully encourage all their listeners to scream “WHAT?” at the top of their lungs.
The rest of the album, for the most part, is just as good. According to the liner notes, Rhian Teasdale is responsible for most of the album’s brilliant lyrics (except Convincing, written by Hester Chambers). Many of the songs paint brilliant and often bizarre pictures of their subjects, with Angelica’s protagonist appearing at a party holding a lasagne and a ray gun, or Ur Mum’s antagonist spooning mayonnaise (a lyric borrowed from Glass Animals, perhaps?) inducing a bout of small-town nihilism.
There are some weaker lyrics, such as Oh No’s mildly amusing but repetitive word-vomit about diet coke and credit cards - luckily, this song is redeemed by fantastic instrumentation. There were even a couple of tracks that felt a little musically uninteresting on first listen, such as the opening track Being in Love. Initially it feels a little sparse, especially when compared to the creative brilliance of the textures and sound effects sprinkled through songs like Angelica, but a second listen reveals all sorts of musical artifacts hidden under the noisy chorus. Listening to it live was where the song really swelled - the band leaned heavily into the noisy aspects of the track, its chorus a cacophony of swirling guitars and vocal harmonies.
Supermarket was another track that I wasn’t keen on during my first listen, but was fantastic live - like many of the tracks here, it is almost impossible not to sing along to, and I can see it being a popular chant at a big festival one day. Unfortunately, there’s something about the studio version’s backing vocals that irritates me, and I can’t figure out exactly what it is. Perhaps it is in the repetitive structures, like on Oh No, that Wet Leg fall apart a little for me.
While I think Wet Leg’s weakest tracks are those that drop the quirkier, surrealist aspects in favour of more standard indie pop song structures and safer lyrics, the songs that seemingly lack a little of the raw energy or creativity on their earlier singles are more than made up for by the album’s highlight tracks. I’ve already mentioned Angelica, my personal favourite, with its confident, stomping rhythm section and immediately catchy lead guitar. It melts into the background when the drums kick in, folding into the layers of distortion and re-emerging after the psychedelia in the pre-chorus. I just love the muted drums on the final verse, when Angelica whips out her ray gun and the song descends into madness. It’s an awful lot of fun, and it feels like the “Good times, all the time” refrain will truly never end.
This, and the closing track Too Late Now, were both fantastic live. Angelica was raucous and loud, Henry Holmes’ drums a powerful force. Too Late Now, like Being in Love, was almost overwhelming to listen to live - the triple-guitar setup really packs a punch, bringing its psychedelic, anxious chorus to life. They even sprinkled in a fantastic guitar solo in the bridge, which I can’t pick out on the studio version - I absolutely love touches like this at gigs, and the entire show was packed full of flourishes and keyboard effects to decorate their well known songs in unexpected ways.
While Wet Leg is grounded in immediately catchy, poppy riffs, the album is packed full of enough instrumental breakdowns to make a shoegaze fan like me happy. They remind me a lot of Our Girl, with their songs full of punchy bass and noisy meltdowns, just with a lot more texture and buoyant instrumentation. The songs are full of beautiful sound effects, such as the ray guns on Angelica, and swirling backing vocals like on the ethereal I Don’t Wanna Go Out. Many of the tracks end with these meltdowns, but they are always centred around an irresistible bassline and retain a much more bouncy and entertaining feeling than lots of shoegaze tracks - I love the contrast, a lot.
Convincing is one of my favourites among the new tracks - I feel that, like Being in Love, it is a little simpler in terms of song structure and instrumentation. But I love the confessional lyrics, with a touch of surrealism, and the slightly off-kilter vocals that add a great dissonance. Loving You starts off with a lovely toned down guitar, and has probably my favourite vocal performances on the album - the performance on the bridge is especially good, with fast singing at an impressive pitch. It’s just very nice, and has some of the most touching lyrics (and brutal put downs) on top of beautifully layered keyboards and guitars.
Cheeky backing vocals seem to be one of Wet Leg’s trademarks, and they really elevate the tracks - see the “Nuh uh” on Angelica, and Chaise Longue’s iconic “Excuse me?” - “What?”. These touches just drive home how much fun Wet Leg seem to be having as a band. They know exactly who their audience is with song titles like Ur Mum, but they manage not to alienate people by overdoing it. There’s just the right balance of seriousness on the album, wonderfully offset by the silliness of Teasdale’s “longest and loudest scream” (which was excellent live, by the way).
The album launch show threw in a couple of new songs in replacement of I Don’t Wanna Go Out, Piece of Shit and Loving You. Obvious was a lovely ballad, giving Henry Holmes a break for a few minutes before descending into a fantastic dissonant instrumental section that left me grinning. It’s a Shame was also good, with Hester Chambers taking over the keyboards for a few minutes to let Joshua Omead Mobaraki shred. I only wish the gig had been longer - but that just leaves me more excited for the songs that are to come from this band.
Finally, we come to the closing track on the album, which is likely my favourite song after Angelica. There’s something about being a final track that seems to elevate a really good song; perhaps it is the build up of emotions across the record, culminating in a final triumphant release. Too Late Now achieves this with a shimmering guitar riff over a driving bass and pattering drum beat; Teasdale and Chambers seemingly played this together live, twirling on stage while the twinkling riff fired off with just the right amount of distortion. The song was completely immersive, played more loudly than it seems on the studio album; it eventually brings us to a panicked chorus, Rhian Teasdale mutedly talking about driving her car into the sea. Her vocals become another instrument, feeding the song’s melancholy atmosphere and sense of longing for something bigger, beyond ‘this fucking town’. You feel almost nostalgic for something you have never experienced, as if you have lived on the Isle of Wight with them all your life, and feel the panic that Teasdale is experiencing. The song unravels, collapsing into a wave of dissonance, and finally there is a reprieve - a simple bubble bath, and suddenly everything is calm again.
When Teasdale sings “You just don’t motivate me” on Ur Mum, you wonder what does. I sincerely hope it’s to keep producing songs that feel this fun and inventive, with a taste for overwhelming noise, because if they do I’m sure Wet Leg will stick around for a long time.