The debut album by Wolf Gang (London-based solo artist Max McElligott) is named after an exotic-sounding location which exists solely within the creator’s imagination: McElligott apparently once experienced a dream in which he escaped to a far-flung location called ‘Suego Faults’. Judging by this, his debut album, Suego Faults is a place situated in the hitherto unexplored territory occupied jointly by MGMT and Mika.
First, that MGMT influence. McElligott sings in a slightly campy, slightly pinched voice that closely resembles that belonging to MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden. And, like MGMT’s debut album, Suego Faults is produced by A-list producer David Fridmann. Opener Lions In Cages aims for the stadium-friendly synth throb of MGMT’s ubiquitous single Kids, but undershoots and ends up sounding like a filler track from an old Now! Dance compilation.
Throughout Suego Faults, there’s an uncomfortable disjoint between the drama of McElligott’s vocals and the mundanity of the words he’s singing. Back To Back’s sultry atmosphere is utterly ruined by its give-a-toss lyric sheet: “When the whole world is thinking / That I must be depressed / The point that they’re missing / Is that I don’t want nobody else.” In this shoddy company, it’s hard not to read closing track Planets’ would-be-rousing promise that “one day you’ll go spinning on your own” as an encouragement to attend high-intensity exercise classes without moral support.
What’s perhaps most disappointing about the album is its nondescript musical palette. David Fridmann is one of the few remaining auteur producers, one who’s as adept at overseeing orchestral lushness (as heard on his seminal work on Deserter’s Songs and The Soft Bulletin) as he is at roughing up songs with bracing touches of distortion (The Flaming Lips’ Embryonic or Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods being prime examples). But the rinky-dink pianos of Stay And Defend or the flatly horrible Disney soundtrack synths that crop up during the title track’s middle eight could have been the work of any number of journeymen knob-twiddlers.
Alongside MGMT, the act that exerts strongest influence over Suego Faults is Mika. That’s not intended as faint praise. Indeed, given the relative commercial failure of his second album, Mika would probably kill for songs as catchy as Wolf Gang’s Stay And Defend or Midnight Dancers right now. The latter – an unashamedly huge-sounding AOR ballad – is comfortably the best thing here, suggesting that McElligott would do well to abandon the 6 Music-appeasing aspects of his sound and just go for the commercial jugular.
Suego Faults isn’t a terrible album, it’s just one that’s lacking any distinct musical personality. The trouble with Wolf Gang is that he sounds a little like a bunch of other musicians but not very much like any one musician – namely himself.