From the brooding, sexual power play of Smother to Present Tense’s tentative tenderness, Wild Beasts’ most recent work has been characterised by lyrical introspection and a more synth-driven sound. By contrast, Boy King is an extroverted, guitar-focused, groove-laden beast, and thematically predatory to the point of parody.
A parade of hyper-macho anti-heroes peacock before us, from ‘Big Cat’ to Adonis and ‘He The Colossus’. This sexual aggression is perhaps best illustrated on the latter track, finding Hayden Thorpe snarling, “Stuff your chastity, your wait and see, your not ready / Because we are vigilantes.” Running in tandem is the crisp thwack of gated drums, stuttering synths, and distorted, fx-laden guitars, similar to those on St. Vincent’s last LP (also produced by John Congleton).
In both its nihilistic tone and industrial sound, Boy King feels comparable to The Downward Spiral. But where Trent Reznor was laying bare a living nightmare, Thorpe and Tom Fleming embody these characters to address the toxic nature of performative masculinity. “Now I’m all fucked up, and I can’t stand up, so I’d better suck it up like a tough guy would,” Thorpe resolves on ‘Tough Guy’, while on the fantastic, serpentine funk of ‘Ponytail’, Fleming feverishly recounts empty sex (“I saw death up the skirts of the world”), and ricochets between violent threats and desperate pleas for intimacy. And while there are no happy endings for these flawed boy kings, it’s an apocalyptic vision you can dance to.