Following the widespread success of their debut album My Love is Cool, a tremendously diverse record in modern alternative rock, Wolf Alice had a few directions they could reasonably take. They could recognize just how hungry their fanbase was for the sound they had established and kept down that train for their follow-up, or they could have just as easily taken a whole new direction away from that structure and explore something completely new on the sophomore release. On Visions of a Life it seems like they found an agreement somewhere between those two options.
Nothing on the follow-up record feels out of left field based on what was heard on My Love is Cool, but there is definitely some sense that Wolf Alice are swinging a little more wildly their second time up to bat. Where they once teased a harsher edge, Yuk Foo and Formidable Cool show just how sharp Rowsell's vocals can get and how jagged the instrumentals can feel. There were plenty of dreamy moments on the debut record, but few could really compare to the heightened cinema of Don't Delete the Kisses or the dimmer tone of Sadboy. My Love is Cool certainly had some subtle hooks under the surface, but songs like Beautifully Unconventional don't shy away from how catchy they are and how much pop influence they are born from. Effectively every element of My Love is Cool is turned up to eleven at different points, making it far more clear just how versatile Wolf Alice can be.
Although this certainly exemplifies the inventive nature of the UK four-piece, the drawback is that Visions of a Life is inherently more flawed in cohesion. What made My Love is Cool such a slick debut is how the group could split a hair down the middle, peeling apart the sounds so finely that the variations were indistinct to an untrained ear but still gave each song a richness. Visions of a Life is a bit more on the nose in its tonal diversity - instead of splitting the hair down the middle, the group are dyeing their hair a bright blue so you can see how edgy they are. This isn't to suggest that Rowsell is losing her strengths in both dreamy soundscapes and raunchy rockers, nor that the instrumentalists are flailing while enhancing the already existent experimentation. Instead, all members of Wolf Alice are outstanding performers in their own right but aren't as fluidly navigating the wavy water they dove into, making it a bit more clear how shaky all this invention can be ultimately.
This is only a minor criticism when considering just how successful Wolf Alice are in their sophomore effort. It may not flow quite as sublime, but the group are still insanely talented from front to back and piece together songs that don't seem to become tiresome after any amount of time. Visions of a Life may not feel as paced out as the groups debut, it still hits hard and doesn't suggest that the group have any intentions of settling down in their sound. This shouldn't have been a surprise for a group who started out so varied, but it should provide hope for those that want Wolf Alice to hold their place as one of the most flexible alternative rock bands of the last decade. No worries should be felt having heard the groups second album, as they are more than ready to keep extending further and showing their full range for all eyes to see.
Favorite track: Don't Delete the Kisses