Written by Chris Osifchin
The Wombats came to be known for a witty brand of indie rock on their first two releases, with an enthusiastic and hyperactive jump on singles like “Let’s Dance to Joy Division” and “Jump Into The Fog.” On Glitterbug, though, they’ve discarded that blend of guitar rock and synths, and smart, playful lyrics in favor of, well, more synths. Singer Matt Murphy channels a character clearly longing for something more meaningful and lasting, as the album chronicles the modern life of a self-destructive partying protagonist and his rocky relationship with a girl who never seems to give him what he wants. If The Wombats are longing for love and adoration, those emotions will likely stay out of reach despite a heartfelt, but mediocre effort on Glitterbug.
Four years is a long time, so it’s understandable that a band might change in style over the years. We’ve never heard The Wombats like this before, though it’s not entirely new territory for them. They kept the pulse of their previous tunes, but they left out all fun that can manifest at that speed. The result is apparent in songs like “Give Me A Try.” When Matthew Murphy frantically begs for a lover’s affection singing, “We could be gigantic, everything I need” on “Give Me A Try,” it’s as if he’s begging the listener to love the new age Wombats. The fact that this is the second song on the album speaks for itself. The Wombats are desperate to be heard, to make an impact, but the sonic waves they put forth on Glitterbug just get lost in the noise.
The album’s sound is certainly gigantic and ambitious for a band that originally slanted more rock than pop. But the overuse of the anthemic, loud chorus and the “Oohs” and “Ahhs” that permeate almost every song are tiresome and repetitive. It’s as if every song is trying to be a pop hit.
That’s not to say the album tries too hard everywhere. The soft ballad of “Isabel,” though it doesn’t abandon the aforementioned tempo, is a somber appeal to the passive-aggressive girl this album is mostly directed toward. Murphy sings, “Isabel, you make it feel as though I’ve won and the dullest parts may never come/Isabel, I’m much better Isabel/When you’re ripping my life apart.” Narrowing his focus helps Murphy on this track. He’s not trying so hard to lift these colossal emotions into a collective anthem, but genuinely spilling his guts. If only The Wombats had slowed the tempo it might have been a perfect tune.
A welcome break from the synthesizers, “The English Summer” is a real jam, evoking The Wombats of old with crunchy rhythm and tight licks. Murphy narrows his focus again as he describes the “animal inside of me/and he’s feeding off every word you say/he pulls my hair he coerces me/into a world where romance is just a game.” It’s like he’s singing about the current state of The Wombats. The ferocious animal is popular music and it’s playing games with their sound. It’s one of the few tracks that evoke a previous iteration of The Wombats sound. Oh, the irony.
Murphy should be commended for his attempts at expanding the sound and depth of The Wombats on Glitterbug. There seems to be a dichotomy of two different sounds for this band. A more seamless blend of their two sounds, coupled with Murphy’s new lyrical direction could result in something explosive in their next attempt. Maybe the band will finally claim the affection they seek. But for now, she’s just out of reach.
Glitterbug by The Wombats can be found on iTunes.
Rating: 5 out of 10