It’s strange to think that Glitterbug is only The Wombats’ third album; they’re a band that seems to have existed for years and yet their body of work remains reasonably small for such a long standing fixture of the murky purgatory between mainstream and indie. In many ways, Glitterbug feels like an album born out of frustration arguably The Wombats are no bigger now than they were four years ago upon the release of their last album This Modern Glitch, still playing smaller concert halls and not really making a serious dent on the charts. This third outing has clearly been influenced by their struggle to both break into America and remain relevant back home in the UK.
Right from the start, Glitterbug feels at odds with anything the trio have done before. ‘Emoticons’ isn’t a bad opener (though I’m not sure singing high notes is lead singer Matthew Murphy’s forte), it’s just not the sound most people look for when turning on a Wombats record. There’s nothing wrong per say with a band attempting to experiment with its sound but here it feels coldly calculated; this is a reinvention for popularity’s sake rather than for reasons of artistic integrity.
Both ‘Be Your Shadow’ and ‘Headspace’ feel like relics from a different era, though the former could be an acceptable throwback if not for the cringey lyrics. I suppose that’s maybe an expected compliant seeing as The Wombats have always skirted the lines between fun and irreverent lyrics and groan inducing ones, but Glitterbug is different with whole songs being dedicated to the latter. The absolute worse example of this is the near painful ‘Pink Lemonade’, which after having to listen to multiple times for review purposes, I frankly hope I never have to suffer through it again.
It’s not that Glitterbug is all bad the issue is merely the best the album has to offer has already been heard as pre album release singles. ‘Greek Tragedy’ is The Wombats’ most successful attempt at finding a new sound; there’s definitely hints of the band fans already know but there’s a wonderful sense of progression in the song that most of the album lacks. The second single ‘Give Me a Try’ is perhaps rather shallow but it’s the most gleeful song on the album – easy to sing along to even if the lyrical interlude before the bridge is questionable.
There’s been plenty of time to digest the first single from the album, ‘Your Body Is a Weapon’, which was released all the way back in 2013. Two years on it remains a rather silly song, including lyrics such as “my body is a temple of doom”, but like many of the Wombats’ tracks it is most enjoyable when you don’t think too much about it. If the name didn’t give it away, ‘The English Summer’ is the band’s attempt at a “summer song”, though calling it a misfire would be rather generous: It’s the sort of song that would probably be tolerable at a festival, perhaps once you’ve already been drinking for several hours, but in sober isolation it’s an awkward anthem for teenage urges.
Glitterbug isn’t all bad, just mostly. There’s a few highlights but you’d be better of simply downloading the three or so good tracks rather than the whole album. Fans of the Wombats will probably be the ones most disappointed with Glitterbug’s change in direction; many will argue that attempting to cater to the masses is a crime against music but that’s not the problem, it’s that in their attempt The Wombats have recorded many of their worst songs to date and crafted easily their worst album.