The Wombats: Noughties indie dancefloor heroes deliver on their fifth studio album
The Liverpool trio's Fix Yourself, Not The World is an early year treat full of big hooks and indie bangers.
“Let’s Dance to Joy Division and celebrate the irony / everything is going wrong / but we’re so happy” is a chorus that so well encapsulated a moment in time. The words from The Wombats 2007 single ‘Let’s Dance To You Division’ soundtracked many a night out, was seemingly forever played on Radio 1 and featured heavily on the late noughties UK hit comedy The Inbetweeners. If you were an indie fan in your teens or early twenties, you couldn’t help but get caught up in the oxymoron of melancholic happiness that the track offered. It was also the kind of song you’d hear as you tried on a new pair of skinny jeans in Topman before picking up the latest edition of NME to read about the antics of the Scouse band and their contemporaries. As a then-teenage fan of guitar music, those were the days.
With other big radio-friendly hits like ‘Kill The Director’ and ‘Moving To New York’ (from 2007 debut album A Guide To Love, Loss & Desperation), the Liverpool trio quickly established themselves as an essential part of the NME-approved, mid-noughties popular indie rock scene. This, of course, needs to be caveated with the fact that the quality of popular indie rock bands in the UK began drying up from 2006 through the popular emergence of inferior bands like The Pigeon Detectives, The Automatic and Boy Kill Boy - "landfill indie" bands that they’re often associated with - though there always seemed to be a little more substance to The Wombats. Yes their music swung firmly in the pop direction, but the tunes had a certain style, lacking the tackiness of the abovementioned artists.
The Wombats articulated the experience of being young, heartbroken and trying to find your place in the world very well. It was music that sounded especially great on beer swinging, sweaty dancefloors too. Like the chorus on 'Let's Dance To Joy Division', you also couldn’t help but get caught in the closing refrain of “this is no Bridget Jones / this is no Bridget Jones…” on ‘Kill the Director’ as you hugged your pals and jumped about without a care in the world. Those were the days, indeed.
Now lets fast forward a few years. The problem with many bands of their era is that they simply run out of steam or attempt to distance themselves too much from the music that made them successful in the first place. The sudden drop off in exposure of “indie” bands post-2008 also discouraged so many from continuing. Not The Wombats though. They carried on and over a decade after their debut, 2018’s Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life revealed a collection of big hooks and energetic guitar bangers were still in their repertoire.
Four years after their last, they’re back with their fifth studio album Fix Yourself, Not the World, the creation of which has been their most challenging yet. The first problem the band had to overcome, of course, was the distance between the members. Difficult enough in normal times, geography created even more of a challenge during the you know what pandemic. Despite frontman Matthew “Murph” Murphy finding himself in Los Angeles, bassist Tord Øverland Knudsen in Oslo and drummer Dan Haggis in London, plans came together via zoom calls and separate recording sessions. The individual files would then be sent on to producers to mix together. Somehow they made it work.
Drummer Dan Haggis would recognise the different approach in a press release, though he was keen to state how they’d still managed to push themselves further than before sonically.
“We’re so excited for people to hear this new album! We’ve explored new genres and pushed ourselves further than ever musically. It will always stand out for us in our memories from our other albums as we recorded it across three cities during lockdown, and we weren’t all in the same room at the same time!”
Before the album was unleashed to the world, our appetites had already been whetted with a few rather excellent preview singles, building up plenty of excitement within the indie community. August single ‘If You Ever Leave, I’m Coming With You’ revealed a familiar indie-pop anthem and, as you sang along to the repeated refrains of the title, you noticed the desperate/clingy tendencies of the song’s protagonist. ‘Everything I Love Is Going To Die’ took the contrast between pop anthem and bleak reality to another level, carried by a delightfully funky bassline.
‘Ready for the High’ exploded into life with its grungey swagger, alternating between the heavy and funkier pop hooks. It picked up extensive plays on the likes of Radio X and Radio 1 and it’s not hard to see why. ‘Method to the Madness’, the first single released back in May, has found its place on the album very well, providing a midway breather ballad. Though don't get too comfortable as before long, it builds to an explosive final quarter and a frustrated refrain of “f*** my sadness, and f*** your roleplay”. Written about their early experiences of being tourists in European cities, the climactic final minute will simply knock your socks off.
Whilst there’s a good case to be made that the best songs on this album were released prior to its release, the flow of album tracks are also of a high standard with the net being cast wide and varying influences heard. Opener ‘Flip Me Upside Down’ is a punchy and intriguing start to proceedings, sonically ‘This Car Drives All By Itself’ sees the disco-punk influence of LCD Soundsystem meeting the driving inspiration of 'Star Guitar' by The Chemical Brothers, whilst ‘Work Is Easy, Life Is Hard’ is another highlight for its irresistible 90s Madchester vibes.
It's not all plain sailing though. ‘People Don’t Change People, Time Does’ has the band influenced by indie-emo-rockers Death Cab For Cutie, though is one of the least memorable tracks. It feels like a mediocre imitation of the Washington band with an overly wordy chorus. Similarly, 'Worry' sounds like a forgettable early Two Door Cinema Club song. Meanwhile, 'Wildfire' has a certain charm, though you'll be left wondering if it edges too close to the pop-rock banality of Imagine Dragons.
A personal favourite is ‘Don’t Poke The Bear’, a more noughties indie flashback that happens to be a lot of fun with its killer guitar riff and lyrics which share a sense of frustration and a “leave me alone!” bite back.
Over this 40 minute album, The Wombats prove, again, that they’re far more than the "landfill indie" tag they're often associated with and that they can easily survive outside the noughties guitar bubble. The tunes are just as catchy and dancefloor-friendly as they were a decade and a half ago, though sounding less rough and ready and more polished. It may also be more diverse, yet not enough to alienate fans of their early work who enjoy their accessibility.
Not without its flaws, the big hooks mixed with the sonic experimentation ensure things rarely get too stale on Fix Yourself, Not The World. A really enjoyable listen from an underappreciated noughties band.