Album Review: The Wombats - This Modern Glitch

by Jim McGuinn

The Wombats - This Modern Glitch
The Wombats - This Modern Glitch (Courtesy of 14th Floor Records)

I remember discovering The Wombats. It was the fall of 2007 and I was surfing a British music blog when I came across a funny song title and clicked. Although I'm used to hearing probably 1000 new bands per year and falling in love with only a couple dozen, it took just one chorus for me to be hooked—"Let's dance to Joy Division/And celebrate the irony!" There was a gleeful, cheeky, winking intelligence on top of pure adrenaline that exploded through the speakers. This early promise was fulfilled by the band's debut album, The Wombats Proudly Present: A Guide to Love Loss & Desperation.

Led by singer, guitarist, and main writer Matthew Murphy, The Wombats formed at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts—like Fame but funded by Paul McCartney (seriously!)—back in 2003. While the debut saw limited success in the states, in the UK the band hit the Top 10 and they found themselves at Glastonbury and other festivals, setting the stage for album number two, This Modern Glitch.

Working with some big American modern rock producers like Rich Costey (Muse, Rage, Interpol, Bloc Party, NIN), Eric Valentine (Queens of the Stone Age, Smash Mouth, Good Charlotte), Butch Walker (Marvelous 3, P!nk, Pete Yorn) and Jacknife Lee (U2, R.E.M., Weezer), the record sounds big and loud. Could the charm and joy of the Wombats survive overproduction? Then I really listened to the songs—in particular, "Techno Fan," the first single we chose to play on The Current, and a track that's been near the top of the Chart Show for the past two months. It's a simple song but one that resonates with almost everyone—for who hasn't changed themselves for love, and gotten lost in the heat of the moment? "The lasers fill our minds with empty plans/I never knew I was a Techno Fan."

From there I dug into the odd love song "Anti-D" ("Please allow me to be your Anti-depressent/I too am prescribed as freely as any decongestant") and a wistful desire to get back to the Wombats' teenage kicks of "1996," and the heart in The Modern Glitch opened up to me. These are great songs! So what if some of the keyboard parts are cheesey? The big production doesn't obliterate Murphy's way with words and the band's youthful energy. And while not sonically reminiscent of 1996 musically (speaking of Smash Mouth?), if you were into the "post-punk/new wave revival" of music that came out of the UK and flashed briefly in the early 2000s (Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, Maximo Park, The Futureheads) the Wombats are like those bands but before the hangover, with enough sauce in them to make the tongue sharp and the arrangements witty.

Listening to The Wombats makes one wistful for a little courage or the foolish ambition to tour the world with your mates and think you could actually get away with it, which The Wombats do throughout This Modern Glitch.