Wardell: Love / Idleness

Just because their dad produced Transformers, it doesn't make Wardell bad people.
Love / Idleness

Spielberg. Spielberg. SPIELBERG. There’s no escaping the elephant in this room. As elephants go they don’t get much bigger. Or more beardy. Or more billionairey. Readers, the 20-something brother and sister duo called Wardell have a famous father. Yep, THAT Spielberg and as hard as you’ll try it’s tricky to hear their début Love / Idleness without thinking “So anyway YOUR Dad made ET, Jaws, CE3K, Indiana Jones? CRIKEY!! [Head implodes]” Add in that Sasha and Theo are signed to ‘Billionaire-in-Training’ Jay Z’s Roc Nation and dammit, there’s bloody elephants everywhere and we’re all standing in a big ol’ pile of elepoop. But hey as another hairy-faced genius once suggested let’s try and “Listen Without Prejudice, Volume One”…

Yes, groan as ye may about the luxury lifestyles of “La-La Land” youth with their “Weekends at the Hamptons”, “Get out of jail free” cards, “Robot butlers” and the like but Love / Idleness is a cosily pleasant, if uneventful, afternoon in the sun. Opening duo “Funny Thing” and “Dancing on the Freeway” pretty much showcase how this whole Wardell deal goes down. West Coast, new bohemians chillaxin’ by the pool with Sasha’s cusp of adulthood nostalgia for the simple days of youth. Her sweet vocal cruising somewhere between Zooey Deschanel and Jenny Lewis whilst the music surfs the crest of a wave between kookville and soul city. The affable “Funny Thing” arrives with rolling acoustic drums, a sunburst of sparkly Vampire Weekend-esque afro beat guitar, a pocketful of wisecracks (“Tuesday came and broke Monday’s face”) and a beatific “WoooHOOO!” fade. The effervescent “Dancing on the Freeway” might bring some listeners out in hives though. Clearly indebted due to the big hair, bigger drums, pastel legwarmers and fingerless neon gloves of Pat Benatar, Cyndi Lauper and Belinda Carlisle it drinks a little too deeply from those dodgy goblets called “Pastiche” and “Kook”. “Why don’t you dance like you’re not shy? / Yeah we’re dancing on the freeway!” it skips. It’s hard not to shake a curmudgeonly fist out of the window “Yeah you bloody rich kids fannying about on the freeway whilst the rest of us are slaving away at work, eating stale bread and wearing second hand underpants”. It’s at this point that you also notice Sasha is somewhat fond of a freestyling “OOOH waaaa HOOOO hooo!”.

The rest of Love / Idleness softly charms, and occasionally chafes, in a similarly modest fashion. The title track is a sweet, soulful Southern stroll which finds teenage ennui heavy-hearted and blue if still pretty chipper. “I get so down / I get so down” Sasha sighs not wholly convincingly as the subtle flicker of Theo’s guitar brings her sunshine back. Elsewhere, the pastoral stomp of “Waters” adds Kate Bush stage histrionics with a touch of healing hands gospel. Despite their parentage this isn’t a particularly ‘Showbiz’ album though there is a tangible sense of ‘Theatre’. When Sasha taunts “You wanna be a part of me? AHH-HEEEE” you can almost feel her gurning like De Niro. As throughout, “Waters” is likable if not lovable but does deliver amusing bon mots like its final confessional “I wanna live… behind on a hill”. “Virginia, Wait” is the weakest link though. An acapella intro shuffles us toward a rustic, folky strum concerning Virginia, a lovesick mother who was “Doing other simple household things” before falling “Into the arms of Phaedre’s smile”. It’s as clunky as it sounds so let’s jog on…

Luckily the second half recovers quite well. “Opossum” is born porchswing, Fiona Apple-lite but dishes out the knuckle sandwiches for an unhinged bombastic, drumtastic ending, “Now’s the time for us to fight!” There’s naturally plenty of “Oooh AH ooooh!” but the overall sensation of being shaken by a wide-eyed loon rambling about “Love being buried in the wake” proves quite exhilarating. The breezy “Act My Age” captures that vintage ’80s John Hughes’ moment where the heartbroken heroine stops, ponders, smiles and flips a U-turn. “Gotta say that I’m finally up for it” it beams despite previously being, ahem, “Chained to life mundane.” Cheesy f’sure but hey look at that smile. That’s got nothing on “Heaven’s Keepers” though. It’s the Glee cast doing “Don’t Stop Believin'” via Blondie’s “Atomic” with extra spoonfuls of “Hooo OOOH aaa OOOH!” Utterly daft and so wrong, but somehow it’s got powers. To quote R.Kelly, “My mind’s telling me ‘No’ but my body’s telling me ‘Yes’.” The daft-o-meter explodes though when they hark “Say goodbye to all the the good times”. Yeah right.

“Uptown Era” gets the ‘Star of the Week’ badge though. Picture this, Carrie meets American Graffiti. A lovers’ waltz on prom night. Sweethearts swaying under Cupid’s mirrorball. BAM! Enter big fuckin’ drums and a sweaty, shit-faced Sasha. Resplendent in leather and denim, she’s swinging an empty bottle of vodka and howling “Uptown era! UpTOOOWWN era! UP!!! UP!!!” as if trying to raise a skeleton army to annihilate her enemy. It sizzles ‘n’ smoulders to its smoking glass slipper showdown “Slowly my honey left me / So I turned to go to sleep.” For one moment Love / Idleness quits being cute, bares its teeth and growls. Cue rapturous applause. Shame we have to part then with the middling “Pray to the City”. A jangly, funky stagger amid odd musings about “Old friend Hannah” and the “Campbell’s soup ad”. Yeah whatever, anyone seen Sasha Fierce?

Love / Idleness is easy going, good natured company, but probably won’t have you lifting your speakers aloft and screaming, “YES! HELL YES! YOU ARE MY NEW MESSIAH!”. If you can sidestep the excessive “Ooh waaaa HEEE heee!”, you will too likely reach the conclusion “Yeah, it seemed…er.. nice”. It’s tailored made for accompanying leisurely, sunny afternoons where, admittedly, dozing may occur but it’s admirably charming too as it dances unapologetically on the freeway like a summer breeze or a mentalist. Perhaps the real lesson we’ve learnt today is that despite the Daddy Warbucks heritage, Wardell are just like us. Y’know basically decent if a little goofy and yeah sometimes a bit dull, but brothers and sisters that’s okay.

RATING 6 / 10