If any band were prone to suffer second album syndrome, it’d be The Wombats. Having shot to stardom back in 2007, their interim single received a lukewarm reception and, four years down the line, the pressure’s on to produce a worthy follow-up to A Guide To Love, Loss And Desperation. As a reply, This Modern Glitch doesn’t misfire, but nor does it sparkle.
Our Perfect Disease provides an attention-grabbing, slick introduction. Thumping bass and rapid-fire electronics coil around fragile vocals. Slightly cheesy octaves leaven the mix – so far, so entertaining. Yet once you get your teeth into it, it’s not a massive progression from the last album – and thus proves to be a sign of what’s to come. The chorus diffuses the poised tension with spread guitar chords, before driving a stake through its heart with familiar ‘ooh-oohing’, a move which kills the brooding maturity.
Speculation as to whether this would be the record where The Wombats grew up, fuelled by smoke signals from the band’s official website promising “grunge” and “electro”, is vindicated in terms of subject matter. The mood is overwhelmingly darker than tales of ironic dancing and Patricia the Stripper. “I’ve thrown away my saltanopram, but felt as grim as the reaper man” groans Matthew Murphy on Anti-D. Touches of synth, too, are a welcome addition. However, the cheeky eloquence of their debut record is often forgotten in a redoubled effort to be ‘poetic’. “Please let me be your antidepressant/ I too am prescribed as freely as any decongestant” – a clunky couplet in a grave number.
The problem with a band as talented as The Wombats is that perfectly decent songs disappoint if they lack that extra edge of brilliance. Last Night I Dreamt… kicks off with the kind of gloriously broad guitar line that’d make Ryan Jarman proud (maybe even a little jealous). Yet ultimately, the weak chorus is uninspiring and the song never gets beyond ‘quite good’. Meanwhile, Jump Into The Fog, a moderately shoegazing slow-burner, is turned into a bad Take That b-side by the presence of a choir turning up in the background.
But there is more than the occasional return to form. First single Tokyo (Vampires And Wolves) is as frenetic as the good old days. Distorted piano blossoms into expansive synths, while a snappy bass kicks the verse forward and prevents the synths suffocating the momentum. Techno Fan is dreamy, delicious pop, romanticising the discovery of nightlife with pearls of lyrical beauty (“East London’s not a bomb site, it’s a treasure chest”). Girls/Fast Cars ticks all the boxes – tight percussion from Dan Haggis, chant-along chorus and devil-may-care attitude, the only criticism being that it takes a verse or two before it reaches the levels of testosterone needed to pull it all off.
One track is worthy of special mention. Closing number Schumacher The Champagne comes completely out of leftfield. Screeching clunky fretwork and a quirky rhythm grab the attention, before growing into a real anthem for the down-and-out, distorted vocals soaring as Murphy revels in being crap at life. More like this, and the record would be on to a winner.
This Modern Glitch is a decent album. The problem is that The Wombats have a reputation as a better-than-decent band. This new offering isn’t enormously different to what’s come before.