Then again, where do Wild Beasts fit in now? This is not rock music. This is not indie music. I’d like it to be pop music, and it should be, but one blast of commercial radio in a local shop will tell you that’s just not permitted. It’s Wild Beasts to the core, no matter what they’re consciously and openly borrowing from the past, or from the endless journeys through the song tunnel of YouTube that they say took place during the recording. The audible trip back to the 80s and 90s isn’t revivalist or nostalgic, though. Instead, the camp energies of synth pop have been harnessed to the core Wild Beasts strengths of a solid rhythm section and a gimlet eye. They’ve confessed that the voluptuous synths of ‘Mecca’ are a cheeky thieving from Haddaway’s ‘What Is Love?’, and they’re occasionally channelling the same smooth energies as Gayngs did on the flawed Relayted a few years back - flawed because as soon as I saw that band live it was abundantly clear they were the ironic bro-off that I’d defended them against. No such flimsy frippery here, for Wild Beasts are deadly serious, something that comes across both lyrically and in the strength of the arrangements, the thought that’s gone into the juxtaposition of rough and skin-soft sonics throughout. Similarly, the influences from contemporary R&B and pop bleed in seamlessly.
Wild Beasts have talked about how how the album was created not only against the endless musical possibilities of the internet, but the impact that it’s had on relationships and sex. Present Tense has a yearning for enduring ideas of love - “How we feel now was felt by the ancients” as ‘Mecca’ has it - and, just as their old lyrics about sex were crude without being crass, dirty-minded without becoming misogynist, on this excellent album they manage to embrace modern romance without being schmaltzy, ersatz or twee. It’s another remarkable achievement from this wonderful group, and all comes to perfect conclusion on final track ‘Palace’, one of the best songs they’ve ever recorded. A graceful piano ballet, Numan synths, it uses the metaphor of buildings for love (“this is a palace / that was a squat”) with lyrics that strip away the last vestiges of any Wild Beasts caricature. Instead, this is sex and sincerity (“We may be savage and raw but at the core / We’ve higher needs”), a realisation that you don’t have to be on your own to change yourself: “You remind me of the person I wanted to be / before I forgot”. Love never tastes so sweet than after a foul debauch; Wild Beasts couldn’t have got here without what they were before. It’ll be odes to vegetable gardening and domestic bliss next, mark my words.