I loved Dream Wife’s self-titled debut for a host of reasons, but chief among them were its fierceness and its feminism. Songs like ‘F.U.U’ that encouraged their fans to be strong ‘bad bitches’, who were willing to fight for what they wanted and deserved, or songs like ‘Somebody’ that railed against the treatment of women in the music industry and, in particular, young women at gigs. It was a powerful beast of an album. So with all these things in mind, I hope you’ll forgive me for my initial disappointment at the opening song from their sophomore album. ‘Sports!’ maintains some of the fierceness as far as the musicianship is concerned, with its opening gambit of ‘fuck sorry’, its screeching guitars and rumbling bassline, and Rakel Mjöll’s trademarked aggressive and clipped delivery. But the lyrics are a bit of a mystery. They focus, sometimes unclearly, on sport related analogies that don’t immediately have the impact the band might have hoped for. ‘Sports!’ was one of the previously released singles, but whenever I am really excited for an album I try to ignore all of the early releases so I can hear the work in its entirety. If I had listened to this song in advance, my excitement might have been slightly dulled.
And as we progress through ‘So When You Gonna…’ we do find ourselves facing up to a changed band. ‘Hasta La Vista’, the album’s second song and another single, is poppier than anything on the debut album. It strikes a much more gentle tone than the band had initially become known for. ‘Homesick’ might have more of that expected rock edge, particularly in its almost squealed chorus, but a first run through the album might well leave the listener feeling that they have a lot of adjusting to do to get the same feelings from this Dream Wife album as they did from the last.
This particular listener, though, was able to make that adjustment. I may have spent the first three or four listens to the album bemoaning the things that I was missing, but I noticed that those concerns were not stopping me from wanting to listen again. So I listened again. And again. And again and again and again and again and again. I was struck by how often I would find myself singing ‘Temporary’ long after the song had finished, it’s extremely catchy melody coming back to me repeatedly. I was surprised how the strange first verse of ‘Validation’, about getting arrested for a mistaken jaunt into a cemetery with a person you had just met but were immediately attracted to, kept drawing me back to the song. And I was overjoyed to find that the run of songs made up of ‘U Do U’, ‘RH RN’, and ‘Old Flame’, which I had initially found a little too lightweight, was actually a set of power pop gems that I have since played on repeat.
In the end, this is what it comes down to: Dream Wife was a post-punk album that had some serious leanings towards pop; So When You Gonna… is a pop album that retains some of the band’s post punk influences and attitudes. It is different, but still very successful. It might well suit a different mood to the debut, which was great for an angry singalong and a release of anxious energy; but if you want something uplifting, carefree, and fun – this second album is the one for you. I think there will be fans of the first album that can’t get on board with this second one, but I really hope that people will give it a chance. Because it is definitely worth it.
The title song, while not my favourite on the album, was the one that convinced me that this different direction had worked. It might sound like the most aggressive song here, the one that is closest to the punkier parts of LP 1, but its narrative focuses entirely on a night out and a constant wondering of when the person the protagonist is with is going to stop talking and give her a kiss. Is it deep? No. Does it have a hidden message? I don’t think it does. But it is a fuck-ton of fun – and maybe, in this case, that’s enough. Couldn’t we all do with an album of pure joy in these dark and disturbing times? In the end, I even grew to love ‘Sports!’
Words by Fran Slater