A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the Take The Light With You LP by Wildlife.
Sometimes the arrival of a record doesn’t bring with it a spectacular introduction – in fact, it would be easy enough to overlook some albums completely on the wrong day – but those albums can sneak up on you, win your heart and capture your imagination if your back is turned and are otherwise engaged. That’s precisely what happened to this critic when I threw on Wildlife’s fourth LP (first I’d ever heard), Take The Light With You to review it; I wasn’t expecting much (and even less, initially, when I discovered the rather retro, Eighties sound of A-side opener, “Wasted”), but I found that I was hooked both quickly and deeply by the album, and it happened early. Better still, I had precisely no interest in extricating myself fro the music’s hold, before long.
From the opening of “Wasted,” Wildlife immediately outlines precisely everything listeners can expect from Take The Light With You: brisk tempos, hook-laced lyric sheets (as well as performances of them) and an overall aesthetic which straddles the lines between The Police and every great and danceable New Wave act from England in the Eighties. Simply said, the synths are dense and the rhythm section is fantastic, but of course none of that would get any traction at all if it weren’t for singer – Dean Povinsky – the man who, in the tradition of Sting, Morrissey and (to an ever-so-slightly lesser degree) Robert Smith manages to wring every drop of emotive accessibility that’s in him out into each song for listeners, and still look good doing it. The results of that combination may have blended into the background in the Eighties but, now, the quality and rarity of it are second to none and will have listeners instantly entranced. Lines like “That’s just time that I’m not wasting anymore/ You’re a wild ocean letting go/ Break my spine and leave me buried all alone/ I’m crashing on your shore/ You can break my heart, break my spine, oh-oo-oh” make listeners either want to rush in to Povinsky’s aid and protect him, or stand up and cheer him on because he has crowned himself their champion. That description might sound overly dramatic, but it’s impossible for it to not feel apt, as the song plays.
The emotionally articulate Eighties vibes continue and actually get even thicker as “Wasted” gives way to “Broken Magic” (which even a hardened cynic like me has to confess is genuinely beautiful) before the acoustic guitar which introduces “Cut Off” steps back for the song’s genuinely bombastic chorus – which has all the elements (great performance, great lyrics, great drums) that would make the song a hit in any decade it may have been released – from the Eighties to present day. Here, again, the melody with which the lyrics are delivered is universally accessible and universally memorable – and the performance fairly smacks of timelessness.
The peak presented but “Cut Off” is so high that the remainder of the side simply cannot help but feel like denouement as it plays, until the needle lifts at side’s end. Sure – “No Control” features all of the musical DNA required to make it a sure hit within the context of this album and the massive synths which color side-closer “All In Black” make the song feel like an undeniable pop epic on its own, but all of those things pale compared to “Cut Off.” Logistically, it would have been wiser to close the side with that song and have listeners rushing expectantly to flip the record over for more instead of leaving a couple of cuts to sink and die unheralded as happens here, but such is the learning curve the band must embark upon of their own accord. As it is, happily, listeners will still have a good enough glow from “Cut Off” that they’ll still continue with the record’s second side when it comes time to lift the needle anyway.
…And the A-side of the album being as strong as it is simply means that Wildlife has a strong formula to either replicate or improve upon if they can, when it comes to the B-side. That’s exactly how it plays out, too; “Follower” opens the side with thoughts of bandmembers supporting each other as well as offering listeners some catharsis they didn’t even know they were craving (but they happily accept) before “Euphoria” hands them some designer impostor U2 songwriting style (“Euphoria” and the cut which follows it, “Whatever, Memory,” are the two weakest on the album, but still reasonably durable) and then “Dance Now” resumes the figurative fireworks display, which lasts for the remainder of the record’s running. On “Dance Now,” listeners will find a more homegrown form of bliss in listening to Povinsky discuss salvation and chemical bliss before the band sews up the album perfectly with a slight shift in style which intimates that all things must come to an end in “The House In The Shadows.” There, it’s hard not to get a little chill as lines like “Come and see me, I’m awake/ Flow like underground water/Look in the window, in the lake – oh, tell me what you find,” even arriving as they do against a solid set of heavy major chord changes. Even when the song finally does end gently and gracefully, listeners may find they won’t be able to stop themselves from smiling; there are definitely some dark corners in every cut on Take The Light With You, but the consistent vibe throughout each cut on both sides here is an uplifting one. It might seem unlikely, but it’s impossible to deny.
Now, with all of that said, it occurs to me that none of it may come as a surprise for fans who have been with Wildlife for a while. Take The Light With You is the band’s fourth album, after all, and they have been together for fifteen years. Even so, that I was won over so completely by Take The Light With You illustrates that the band is still expanding and still has more ears to touch and hearts to win. Here’s hoping they get the opportunity, this album definitely illustrates that they deserve it.