It’s practically a cliche to say a Wolf Parade release doesn’t compare to their debut. “Apologies To The Queen Mary” is generally regarded as (and likely is) one of the best albums of the past decade. And for the prominent critics, the band hasn’t been able to climb out of that shadow, however admirable their attempts.
And now, as a “Baby Blue” ‘solo’ blisters through my speakers, in what amounts to an epic, bone-rattling false climax, it seems difficult to accept “Cry Cry Cry” as “just O.K.”
The tune begins with an organ right from your mother’s church choir, before a thick buzzy synth slides in, and the gritty guitars and drums create an admirable contrast. A contrast that is mirrored within Krug’s lyrics, “Sometimes we are an open flower/Sometimes we are an open wound.”
The song builds and builds, stutters, and threatens to change direction before turning into what I assume is the band’s impression of some grand symphonic ode. Lyrically, Krug plays on the connotations of a “true blue” cliche, so that it’s unclear if “burning blue for you” is a positive attribute or not. Structurally, he intertwines his verse and chorus:
“True blue (true blue)
And there is something like a tidal wave coming my way
True blue (true blue)
And we are digging in the sand like a couple of maniacs
True blue (true blue)
And there’s a nautilus curve, but we can call it a cave
True blue (true blue)
I heard the island is all right if you’re looking for a grave”
Overall, “Cry Cry Cry” is more mature, less angsty (but still angsty), and employs a counterpoint to Wolf Parade’s well-established gritty, abrasive (in a good way), pure energy sound.
Following “Baby Blue” is “Weaponized,” Wolf Parade’s most vulnerable song. Boeckner would have howled the song’s refrain in the past, and he’d be right to, yet here he is subdued. Toward the end of the song the band falls out, leaving only Krug’s piano, Boeckner’s vocals, and Thompson’s shimmering cymbals. Whereas at one point Boeckner might have been the one to weaponize, it now seems as though he’s at the other end.
And throughout the song’s lyrics Boeckner’s narrator is decidedly uncertain, in what almost amounts to an anti-love song. That’s not to say the song is “anti-love,” but rather that the song butts up against the love song trope.
“Reconstruct me and more,” he sings, “Reconstruct me, please/Reconstruct me, give me love/There’s only us.”
“There’s only us,” is a key phrase to the song. Employing a minimalist approach, the lyric reads as a reminder of humanity on an intimate personal level, as well as from a broader social/political perspective.
King’s Of Piss And Paper
Love, sleeping, dreaming, reconstruction, kings/queens, and the contrast of real human feeling with the ever impersonal machinery of the modern world, are all prominent/recurring themes on the album. Which is not so far removed from their ever- heralded debut. Yet the irreverence, the satire, the irony, is balanced by uncertainty, and vulnerability. Along with a recognition that satire and irony are merely placeholders.
“I had a dream I was in school, I was learning from the best how to overcome my blues
They said, here’s a spider in a bowl, here’s Poseidon’s white bull
Now, just pretend you have the right to choose…”
Krug sings in “Am I An Alien Here” perhaps the album’s most dejected tune lyrically, yet sonically, it’s touching and beautiful. From the bright piano and synth that open the song, to the way the chorus climbs, and the nearly whispered post-chorus verse.
The closing track, “King Of Piss And Paper,” is the album’s most biting, holding all the irreverence and indie-rebellion you love in your rock ‘n’ roll. Still there’s uncertainty. Krug and Boeckner question themselves just as they question the modern world emerging around them. And like “Am I An Alien Here,” there’s a bliss-like emotion in the track’s composition that doesn’t undercut Krug’s lyrics, but gives them more weight.
To say that this album is a default indie throw back, would be lazy. Their lyrics present an impressive circumference that ranges from Leonard Cohen and David Bowie, to Dylan Thomas, Poseidon, and Plato, to the rise of fascism, and the current socio-political climate. The diverse arrangements, the musicianship, the emotion both develop with the band’s natural desire to rebel against convention, and their acceptance that convention is part of ordinary life.