Dream Wife say that they see themselves as 50% Spice Girls and 50% Sleater-Kinney. Based on this effervescent debut album, they have found the perfect genesis of the two sides of their psyche. However, in place of the stage-managed, corporately calculated “feminism” of Simon Fuller’s brainchild is an organic, honest and furious political fire, and it permeates everything they do. Even their name is an attack on the continuing commodification of women and their role in society, and most of the 11 tracks here confront the issue on some level.
Their feminist stance is the substance that forms the framework of the album, but it is their uninhibited, vital energy that fills out its flesh. Hey Heartbreaker is one of the album’s calling cards, here in a re-recorded version from the one included on their underground hit of a debut EP in 2016. It is the quintessential Dream Wife song – ebullient, hedonistic and ready for the night time. In much the same way as The Big Moon’s crystalline, Mercury-nominated debut did in 2017, or indeed as their Lucky Number labelmates Friends and Hinds have done on their respective debuts, every second of Dream Wife is teeming with the unlimited exuberance and optimism that this stage of life affords you.
The trio, formed in Brighton in 2015 as an art school project and now based in London, have been causing tremors around the live music circuit for a couple of years now. Frontwoman Rakel Mjoll, a native Icelander, prowls the stage like a predator who has stalked and cornered her prey, smirking in the knowledge that she has them trapped. The centrepiece of their live show is the final track here, F.U.U., a title that shouldn’t take too much figuring out. As Mjoll spins herself into a frenzy over Alice Go’s splenetic guitar work, she works in a few lines from Wannabe, in case there was any doubt about the integrity of their love of the pop icons. But this is an unforgiving, acerbic track, a tirade against anybody either bold or dumb enough to cross her path. And yet, the smirk is still there, the twinkle in her eye infiltrating her voice too.
Elsewhere, the singles Fire and Somebody are included, the latter being their call-to-arms anthem for female empowerment, driven by the mantra, “I am not my body, I am somebody”. The song has been part of their setlists for some time now, but in a post #MeToo world, it resonates all too loudly. But don’t let the idea of a young band who aren’t afraid to state their minds give you the impression that this is a serious, studious listen. For Dream Wife, social commentary is just one ingredient in a heady mix. A better guide to their sound is the fizzing opener Let’s Make Out, during which Mjoll just about sums it all up: “We’re spending time/And we’re wasting our youth”.
A more fitting breakdown of Dream Wife’s identity might keep the Sleater-Kinney comparison, but combine it instead with The Slits or The Runaways, or even The Pipettes or Rilo Kiley. Or maybe forget the comparisons with days gone by and give Dream Wife their own space to grow and develop as they will. If the point of a debut album is to capture a moment, to provide a snapshot of a new, hungry band bursting at the seams with hope and abandon, then this must already be one of the debut albums of the year.