Known for their melodic, chaotic fusion of synth-pop and indie rock, the Wombats earned themselves a dedicated following with The Guide to Love, Loss, and Desperation, This Modern Glitch, and 2015’s Glitterbug. Since closing the Glitterbug chapter, lead singer and guitarist Matthew Murphy, drummer Dan Haggis, and bassist Tord Overland Knudsen have been in three different countries for both personal and professional reasons. For their next effort, they mostly worked independently, only coming together for a whirlwind two week recording binge to lay down the tracks. The result was their fourth studio album, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life.
Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life keeps the promise of its name. The album is full of the Wombats’ clever metaphors, tight turns of phrase, and patented Liverpudlian self deprecation in exploring relationships that have gone far past their expiration dates, mainly because they can’t let go when they should. Calling back to past tracks like “Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves)” and “This is Not a Party,” the Wombats proved they could still paint a detailed, absurdist picture when they introduced the album’s first single, “Lemon to a Knife Fight.” The same tendencies can be found in tracks like the surreal, guitar-heavy “Black Flamingo” and the bouncy pop of “I Only Wear Black.”
While Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life still has the same hallmarks of past Wombats albums, they’ve also introduced a more dissonant sound in their instrumentation. Lyrically darker songs tended to have the same upbeat sound and wry humor as any of the happier ones, but this record introduces a heavier sound. “Cheetah Tongue,” the album’s slightly psychedelic rock opener, employs a darker tone when discussing the personal sacrifices they make to be with someone who enchants them. There’s also the addictive, draining relationship of “White Eyes,” which has the band channeling the Strokes with hypnotic guitar riffs.
The Wombats seem to save some of their experimental efforts for the end of the album. Certain tracks seem to be taking inspiration from the Beatles’ intro to psychedelic sound. The aforementioned “Cheetah Tongue” finds a friend in the love song “Dip You in Honey.” With lyrics like “Baby we’re made out of sunshine/Baby we’re made out of stars/Tame the thunderclouds in my mind/Cause the sunshine won’t shine around here no more,” the track moons over nature to explore the all-consuming inevitability of their physical relationship. Then there’s album closer “I Don’t Know Why I Like You But I Do,” which ends the album on a dreamier note than is typical of the Wombats.
What seems to be missing is the frenetic energy that used to make each song practically vibrate off of the album. Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life feels like a Wombats album performed underwater; the clever lyrics and usual feelings are all there, but on the whole it seems a bit muted when compared to older fare like “Let’s Dance to Joy Division” and “Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves).” Glitterbug was praised by some outlets for relaxing their usually chaotic sound, but this album goes a bit too far in that direction.
However, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life is a still solid entry into the Wombats’ discography. Fans will be happy to see that the boys exercising their creative lyrical muscles and still cranking out addictive melodies, despite the slight downturn in tempo. For instance album highlight “Turn” is a cinematic love song that leverages an undeniably catchy melody and simple, relatable turns of phrase. “I like the way your brain works/I like the way you try/To run with the wolf pack when your legs are tired/I like the way you turn me inside out,” Murphy sings, reminding listeners about what love is–regardless of how it ultimately ends.