Just last week, Anna Burch’s excellent Quit the Curse was released, and I described it as a healthy break-up record with loads of logical self-care. As it is, the break-up record is a cultural touchstone. Any group or musician with a long enough history will eventually release something of the sort. I could make a list here, but it would be a heavy book with graphs and charts and fold-out posters of Bob Dylan. The Wombats, a UK pop-rock band seemingly obsessed with parties and pills, don’t really shine as the sort ready for their solemn break-up record, but Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life is just that: a slimy yet serious take on the break-up record with one integral change: there’s never actually a break-up. Furthermore, unlike Burch’s Quit The Curse it’s completely unhealthy.
It’s all push and pull. The opening track, “Cheetah Tongue” includes the words, “Don’t shut your eyes until we fade to black ’cause maybe this time the good stuff could last,” and that seems to be the thesis as little changes thematically throughout the rest of the record. It’s line after line of love with a tinge of hatred. On “White Eyes”, singer Matthew Murphy sings, “You clean my heart you do, but still, it twists like a Rubix cube.” Later, “Lethal Combination” is a sugary song about a toxic relationship that includes the should-be-a-cliché, “Every silver lining has a cloud.” The album even closes on a song titled, “I Don’t Know Why I Like You But I Do”. The band is hitting you over the head with their message here, but it’s fine because the vehicle is superb.
And that ‘vehicle’ is the tunes. They’re excellent workouts in powerful pop-rock. In the past, the band played around a bit, incorporating barbershop melodies, disco bass, and nearly-techno beats. On Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life though, Wombats keep their feet in classic rock water. More specifically, the album is heavily indebted to Strokes-like guitar and psych-tinged riffage.
“Dip You in Honey” has the crunch and the riff to be included in the Nuggets compilation while “White Eyes” is the same thing with a pop chorus. As mentioned, Strokes-ian guitar abounds here. “Lemon to a Knife Fight” pushes a riff to the front that could be mixed right into Room on Fire while “I Only Wear Black” plays those down-stroke chords like a fired up Albert Hammomd Jr. in 2002. This is not a diss on the Wombats. The tunes are crunchy and melody-laden to nearly sugar-coma inducing levels, and it’s what we want from bands like Weezer, the Strokes, and the Wombats as well.
In the end, you come out feeling a little strange. It’s a sad album really, but it’s played so triumphantly. You have to wonder what Murphy is feeling here. I guess having a rock band can have its perks. It’s an outlet for the writer and the performer. Luckily for the listener, we get to siphon off some of this catharsis as well. Many of us have dealt with heartache, but it’s never been this pleasant before.