“It’s not paranoia if it’s really there,” sings Matthew “Murph” Murphy on his new song “Worry” — and he’s got a point. The success of Liverpool’s Wombats has consistently charted an unusual path, so maybe some healthy paranoia is a good thing. Along with fellow multi-instrumentalists Tord Øverland Knudsen and Dan Haggis, Murphy has created a cult fanbase by setting his bloody self-deprecating sentiments to surging dance-rock tracks. That led to some classic albums, such as 2007’s A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation and 2011’s This Modern Glitch.
As time wore on, the group stopped netting chart entries in the UK, despite their albums selling well and their shows always being well-attended if not sold-out. Something was missing, and after the muted reception to 2018’s Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, Murphy soldiered on with a side-project, putting out EPs under the name Love Fame Tragedy which, shocking no one, sounded a lot like the Wombats (this wasn’t a bad thing).
Yet the fates had different things in mind for the trio, and in early 2021, the band gained TikTok notoriety for a remix of their song “Greek Tragedy” going viral. Young influencer stars like Charli D’Amelio and Charlie Puth used it in casual videos to great success, even netting the band their first Gold record in the US. Suddenly, through no efforts of their own (outside of having a fantastic back catalog of songs to choose from), the Wombats had a major hit on their hands. With Love Fame Tragedy’s promotional run winding down, the group got together to create Fix Yourself, Not the World and ended up with their first-ever UK chart-topper. To borrow a line from the new record, it was all a “bang without the dynamite”.
The problem with their mostly-dismissed 2018 record was that after being active in the pop-rock scene for over a decade, the group’s songwriting and production had started to lap itself, with a few still-brilliant singles unable to mask the repeated use of Murphy’s famed downtrodden motifs. What’s remarkable about Fix Yourself is that very little has changed outside of the group’s engagement. The songs are catchy as ever (and, in the case with the dynamite single “This Car Drives By Itself”, perhaps one of the best they’ve ever penned), and few songs dip below mid-tempo. So what happened? The group found new ways to love playing their music this time around.
Take “Everything I Love Is Going to Die”, for example. The themes are familiar (Murphy wants out of a conversation because he is riddled with thoughts of mortality and how it affects him), but nicking a Peter Hook-styled bassline feels fresh and is implemented well. “Icarus is my best friend,” notes Murphy during the chorus, which is an association that says more about the narrator than anything else. It’s an interesting trick that subverts the standard Wombats template just enough to make it dynamic.
Similarly, “If You Ever Leave, I’m Coming With You” is a haunting number, which uses dry Strokes-like guitar tones on its verses to lull you into a false sense of security before hitting with a synths-and-beats chorus that’s quite creepy. Meanwhile, the narrator refuses to let someone out of their life no matter what it takes. “Trying to makе friends with the friends you’rе close to” is as clingy a line as you’ll hear all year. It’s a darker sentiment than Murphy usually posits, and it works in spades.
The only issues with Fix Yourself are things that the band could’ve fixed themselves. “Wildfire” lacks the complex metaphors that Murphy is usually so adept at delivering (the chorus is literally “She is wildfire” repeated). “Method to the Madness” eerily evokes the production style of Blur’s heavily divisive worldbeat record Think Tank but plods through its chorus too slowly (thank goodness for that tempo change halfway through). Finally, “Don’t Poke the Bear” ambles along without much to say, the kind of song that very much feels like an album cut but perhaps something that would’ve been best left as a B-side.
Yet quibbles like these are relatively minor: we’ll take a few bland tracks in exchange for an overall re-engaged, excitable Wombats. When the trio bring in a blaring brass section at the end of “Ready for the High”, escalating their lament of a better life that’s just out of reach to the Beatles-esque singalong stratosphere, it reminds us why the Wombats are the kind of group you hope never stop making music. It’s so fun, it’s so winkingly subversive, and we for sure cannot survive another multi-year wait between releases. This album is a hell of a Fix.