For England's Wild Beasts pop music, class, and gender aren't easily separated. What makes this more than a simple pop cliche is the band's approach to the question of masculinity. The kind of masculinity that appears across their four albums is as diverse as it is arcane; instead of attempting to embody an abstract ideal or essence, Wild Beasts' approach might better be described as an exploration what it means to be manly at different moments in time. Their latest release announces as much in its title, but, as always with Wild Beasts, what first appears as a naive truism masks a darker story.
Unlike previous Wild Beasts releases, the romance on Present Tense seems to move beyond satire and jest to what might pass as honest enjoyment. On "Mecca" Thorpe builds on the existential embrace of "Wanderlust," describing history's collapse into a single moment of erotic love: "Cause all we want is to know the vivid moment / Yeah, how we feel now is felt by the Ancients." Similarly, the album closer, "Palace," finds Thorpe arriving again at that romantic moment, unguarded and able to achieve an intimate vantage: "In detail you are even more beautiful than from afar / I could learn you like the blinded would do, feeling their way through the dark." The catch to all this is that this kind of intimacy doesn't come without a lot of historical baggage. On "Past Perfect" Thorpe dismisses the possibility of a "perfect present," instead admitting to a present that is characterized by an irreducible tension. His explanation reads like a moralistic nursery rhyme: "Our hurt is older than our hands / It passed from monkey into man / Now tender hands do heal the hurt / Man did fuck up / and then he learnt." But the learning is not over. For the Wild Beasts of Present Tense, what counts as masculine cannot escape its own historical confusion or triumph over modern disillusionment. Here, in other words, is no simple resolution, but the end of a category that knows its time is up.