Wild Beasts Last Night All My Dreams Came True

[Domino; 2018]

Styles: art rock, synth pop, vaudeville
Others: British Sea Power, Talk Talk, Dutch Uncles

On a clear night — wide-eyed, gin-soaked, fists raised, starry-skied — the streets of towns and small cities take on their own blurry glamour. The shatter of glass after dark is a starting pistol here, spurred on by the sound of sirens and the faint taste of blood in the mouth, sprinting around corners and side streets. In the early years, at least, every Wild Beasts song seemed desperate to synthesize that juvenile adrenaline, crooning about exchanges that were sometimes brawling, sometimes lusty, often both. Last Night All My Dreams Came True is their attempt to distill 16 years and five albums into one loving retrospective, a “best of” collection where each song has been re-recorded in one final, go-for-broke session. For a band whose magic was almost entirely captured in those early scenes, it leans pretty hard on their late-career Junior Boys impression, but consistently lifts those tracks beyond their original pallor.

That those later records felt disappointing was only indicative of how high the band had once soared: at the time of 2009’s Two Dancers, it felt impossible that they could ever top it. They never did. But in an era when UK indie had become decidedly stale (looking at Bombay Bicycle Club and Two Door Cinema Club here, surely the two least appealing memberships since NYPC were taking applications), it’s a masterpiece that no one can take away from them. “Hooting & Howling” is the pick of its progeny on show here, another anthem that seemed to pierce Wild Beasts’ favorite twin subject matter: braying and swooning. Recorded for these RAK sessions, it sounds as vital as ever, but that raises its own question: why bother re-recording it? Why make a fresh pitch with art that can already call itself immaculate?

What soon becomes apparent is that this is not a greatest hits set; if it were, the almost complete absence of debut Limbo, Panto (not even represented here by one whole track, as “The Devil’s Crayon” is merged with a later Present Tense track to become “The Devil’s Palace”) would be an unforgivable oversight. Instead, it functions as a means to repurpose the awkward sexuality of their final album, Boy King, into something louder, rawer, and more exciting than it ever was first time out. More than half of that record is recreated here, and each one is a fresh revelation, not least in how comfortably they sit next to the rest of their sterling catalogue. “Big Cat” actually sounds as sexy as presumably first intended; the previously forgettable “2BU” finds co-vocalist Tom Fleming’s voice at its growling, sultry best, even as it channels Paul Young’s “Wherever I Lay My Hat.” Best of all is “He the Colossus,” a song that was clearly born to be unstrapped and allowed to strut, coruscating in its power.

“We’re decadent beyond our means,” Hayden Thorpe sings on “Wanderlust,” opening here as thrillingly as it did on 2014’s largely subdued Present Tense. The band never really abandoned that Dionysian spirit, but they did go on to refine it, almost too much. Maybe that’s just part of getting older. Maybe there’s a point where it becomes disingenuous, an affectation that signposts to former glories long out of reach. Perhaps it’s why, against the odds, Last Night All My Dreams Came True is such an unexpected success — because pressed together, it becomes apparent how pleasurably the band’s entire discography has crystallized. Capturing the quicksilver violence of youth may be beyond us now, as it is for Wild Beasts, but we still make time to celebrate the night’s dark chemistry.

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