It was in 2010 alt-rock quartet Wolf Alice formed as a two-piece band adding more members as they went along. It wasn’t until February 2015 when they released their first full-length album, My Love is Cool – the album was bold and different from a lot of other bands in the genre at the time. And now, in 2017, they released their sophomore record, Visions of a Life. But has the band succeeded again or ended up with that “oh so difficult” second album? Well, it’s not quite either of them.
In my personal opinion, My Love is Cool is one of the greatest alt-rock albums that’s been released this century so far, so the bar was naturally very high for Visions of a Life. However, rather than trying to produce more music similar to the first album, they’ve diversified and the album sounds incredibly different. The band have taken a bold risk with this album that for the most part really pays off.
The first four tracks on the album are the singles that were released ahead of the album – ‘Heavenward’, ‘Yuk Foo’, ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ and ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’. Both ‘Heavenward’ and ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’ showcase this almost dream-pop/rock hybrid genre that can be found splattered through the rest of the album; it’s this sound that really provides a through line and consistent sound for Visions of a Life. The other two singles are wildly different to anything else on the album, with ‘Yuk Foo’ being a punk inspired anthem that really shines but perhaps works better as a single than part of the album. ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ feels like a 50s rock inspired track that is actually a love letter to the 1980s film Heathers.
For me, ‘Planet Hunter’ is the highlight of the album as it combines gorgeous guitar rhythms with a swelling pipe organ and the chorus giving the song that dream-pop feeling but with a harsher edge. It’s hard to categorise the rest of the album as no two songs really sound similar, with songs like ‘Space & Time’ being fun-filled rock ballads, the titular song ‘Visions of a Life’ being a large instrumental gut punch that finishes the album off with panache, and ‘St. Purple & Green’, which is the closest we really get to the sound of My Love is Cool. ‘Sadboy’ really delivers on the grunge sound that made the band popular, something akin to ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’. Just before the grand finale where we’re given ‘Visions of a Life’, ‘After the Zero Hour’ provides a nice gentle come down from the mania of ‘St. Purple & Green’, with an acoustic guitar and echoey vocals of singer Ellie Rowsell, giving off an almost campfire feeling.
Visions of a Life, for the most part, doesn’t quite reach the highs of My Love is Cool, but the fact the band has tried something new here is incredibly exciting and worth commending. Saying that, however, in my mind, My Love is Cool is on such a high pedestal, it would’ve been very difficult for Visions of a Life to come close, but it did, and it’s by far one of the best albums of the year.