Tuesday, March 9th, 2021

Wolf Alice – The Last Man on Earth

No word on Will Forte’s involvement…


Aaron Bergstrom: In which Ellie Rowsell casually remakes the entire Britrock canon in her own image. Rowsell has always been vocal about her desire to create space for women in rock, and in that light, her transformation of such male-dominated source material is in itself a radical act. Politics aside, it’s also just a fantastic song, and while it’s possible to reduce “The Last Man on Earth” to a list of its influences (the Bowie piano section, the McCartney bridge, the Ashcroft strings, the fact that Liam Gallagher probably gets royalties anytime a British artist says the word “shine”), such an exercise misses the point entirely. There’s nothing new here, but somehow it’s all new. In Rowsell’s hands, familiar touchstones radiate newfound power and immediacy. It’s captivating as recorded, but the band’s recent live performance on Jools Holland is legitimately breathtaking. This is what happens when a brilliant woman has a long-term creative vision and the industry doesn’t immediately bury her under layers of whatever Jack Antonoff thinks her music is supposed to sound like. I don’t know if Wolf Alice is the best band in the world, but they’re the band that makes me most excited about the future of rock music.

Scott Mildenhall: Ambitious not in a pyrotechnic way, but in how it is so exposing. It takes either guts or blinkers to write a song about ego that sounds so earnest in its bombast, and more so when that bombast is both drawn-out and played-out. Songs like this are set for death or glory, and glory does not come for the repetitive and insubstantial.

Alfred Soto: It opens up leisurely, using an organ and muffled choir to conjure the sensation of floating in a most peculiar way. Subsequent plays reveal a kiss-off whose details another singer less confident about her quietude than Ellie Rowsell would’ve stressed with a green highlighter. Too long, but I always think songs are too long.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: A lesson in the perils of drafting a review while listening to a song for the first time: I was going to consign this to the box of mediocre alt-rock piano balladry, a set of songs that manage to be overwrought in their metaphors but all-too-subdued in their instrumental choices. And then, midway through a truncated second verse, “The Last Man on Earth” gains a second gear, and leaves the style I thought it occupied behind completely. It doesn’t really improve the song by any margin — it’s a lift into psychedelic rock styling that doesn’t feel earned by the song or vindicated by any grand climax — but at very least it’s a more interesting form of middling!

Katherine St Asaph: That’s one hell of a payoff, isn’t it? And it’d still be one hell of a payoff without an Adele ballad (or, since it’s 2021, Olivia Rodrigo?) preceding it.

Vikram Joseph: “The Last Man On Earth” comes in on a sparse, minimalist piano figure, a ghost off the water; its success hinges on Ellie Rowsell’s masterful control of dynamics, her vocals taking flight and returning to earth like a flock of birds unsure whether to begin their migration north for the summer. Her band follow her cues, mostly; the one moment they decide not to results in an awkward Beatles-pastiche guitar solo which thankfully ends shortly after it begins. Rowsell has talked about the line about “dancing lessons [to be] sent from God” referring to a Vonnegut quotation that she felt was pretentious, but in its fuller sense I read this as being a song against individualism. “A penny for your truth / well I hedge my bets on wealth / ‘cos it’s lies after lies after lies, but do you even fool yourself?” made me think of J*rdan P*terson and his acolytes, proferring wisdom for life which amount to little more than repackaged right-wing doctrine. But the line she keeps coming back to — “You’d like a light to shine on you” — captures a more universal feeling: the driving urge to stand out, to be seen as special, which Rowsell argues is detrimental to our own well-being and that of wider society. There’s a lot of ideas bursting at the seams of this relatively conservative ballad, but Rowsell renders it deceptively tender and just about holds it all together.

Harlan Talib Ockey: Baby’s First Socratic Dialogue. I assume this is trying to be an existential “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” filtered through Florence and the Machine, but the result is so impassive and superficial that it’s impossible to sympathize with anyone involved. The descriptions of the titular Man are infuriatingly opaque, with no substantial insight into his life or thoughts, and any emotion the narrator might convey toward him is crushed by Rowsell’s inability to sustain her vocal power in the first verse’s lower range. When the choir kicks in, your first reaction is confusion, not catharsis; we still hardly understand what this Man’s deal is or what’s going on. Seeking answers, I consulted the oracle for information on what the purpose of this parable might be, and frankly, knowing how far Wolf Alice missed their stated intent made me knock another two full points off this score. “Last Man” is supposedly about “the arrogance of humans” in believing everything has cosmic significance, but this concept is hilariously tortured throughout the song. Why is the narrator admonishing the Man for wanting divine help while simultaneously asking for a celestial light to shine on him? And clearly the Man is of great importance if he’s the first and last person on Earth, right? (I also want to ask who the Man’s friends that he hears so much from could be if he’s the last person on Earth, but now we’re getting into nit-picking territory.) This song proves no point, reveals no great emotional truth, and is ultimately about as deep as a shot glass.

John Seroff: “Last Man on Earth” tries hard to have it all, aiming for grandiose and delicate, maudlin and sweeping, bedroom pop and arena anthemic, all in under five minutes. For circumstances where the moment is already charged — last call and last dance and first meetings after an age in lockdown — this should get the trick done, but its straddling between bromide and angst doesn’t stir much in me.

Austin Nguyen: Everyone has, at some point in their life or another, imposed death of the author onto a book/song/film/TV show. It’s second nature, near-impossible to restrain, the desire to project self — memories, ideologies, fantasies, etc. — onto any surface that will be malleable to it: high school football-bros puffing their chests like whatever rapper is charting the Hot 100, Urban Outfitters-clad girls crushing and gushing like Lara Jean, me waiting for a house made of candles for the fifth year and counting. There are fragments of ourselves that we see in art, that we collect and piece together to construct fragile, ever-rearranging Jenga-block bridges of connection so that internal narratives inform external ones. In reaching out over that bridge though, there also lies the desire to self-preserve, re-affirm one’s own presence and reach back in. “And every book you take ….. / has lines between lines between lines / That you read about yourself”: solipsism, in effect. Art becomes an echo chamber that we use to hear ourselves. The practice is innocuous when sparse, a lattice of stars to guide our thoughts that we catch in tiny glimmers of piano; but at the same time, it has the potential to become engulfing and warped and dense and crushing until the self propagates like dust, coating everything with a film of “lies after lies after lies.” It’s fitting that the source material is a postmodern novel (though, really, what comes to mind is Italo Calvino, all romantic and rhizomatic, blurring the line between fiction and reality, bookended by self and only self), and even more fitting that no answer is found: “But does the light shine on you?…..But the light.”

Reader average: [10] (1 vote)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

Comments are closed.