New Music 05/2023 – Neil Young, Beyoncé, Wet Leg

Sometimes you suddenly find yourself getting into the artists you were never all that interested in, and that was the case with Neil Young and Beyoncé for me. Plus, a debut album from one of last year’s most-hyped bands.

Greatest Hits

It only took me almost thirty years to come around on Neil Young, but it’s finally happened. It’s fair to say that his high, nasally tenor can be a bit of an acquired taste, and until recently I found it kinda grating and off-putting. I’m not sure how this shift has happened, but I slowly fell in love with his distinctive, rough-around-the-edges singing, and how unpolished, vulnerable and human his voice sounds. With that barrier gone, I was finally able to appreciate what an incredible songwriter Young is.

I’d definitely like to make forays into Neil Young’s albums, but this Greatest Hits compilation, spanning from 1969 through 1992, seemed like a pretty good introduction. It gives you a taste of Young’s long and varied musical career, from gorgeous and tender acoustic ballads like Harvest Moon to distorted electric guitar and angry protest songs like Ohio. My personal favourites include Down By the River, with its slow gritty groove and dark lyrics, achingly beautiful Helpless (which I heard before in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz), and Old Man, which sparked my recent interest in Neil Young after I discovered it as an early live performance on YouTube and was moved to the core by its lyrics.


I’ve never had more than a casual interest in Beyoncé’s music, though I fully respect and admire her as a genuine pop icon. Her old R&B hits with Destiny’s Child have a bit of a nostalgic glow for someone my age, and she’s put out some exceptional singles throughout her solo career, but I was never interested in a full Beyoncé album until now. It made me wonder if perhaps I should give her more recent discography a closer look.

Renaissance, Queen Bey’s seventh solo album, is a pure exuberant blast of dance floor energy, sixteen house/disco tracks mixed together as a single DJ set with not a single ballad in sight. Though nothing on the record jumped out at me as much as the supernaturally addictive, ecstatic Break My Soul, the album is an exhilarating ride, complete with sultry and at times outright raunchy lyrics you’d never see coming from Beyoncé’s earlier, somewhat plastic public persona. It’s pretty gratifying to see a 40-year-old woman be so unapologetic and unconstrained.

Among the many samples, Donna Summer’s 70s classic I Feel Love gets a dazzling makeover on the closer, Summer Renaissance. I’ve never been a massive party animal, but this album almost makes me want to step inside a nightclub and lose myself in heavy beats and bass for a sweaty hour or two.

Wet Leg

This British indie rock group (hailing from the Isle of Wight) charmed the hell out of me when I saw them support Harry Styles on his recent visit to Melbourne, so much so I was inspired to dig into their debut album. Prior to that, my only exposure to twenty-somethings Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers was through their infectious viral hit Chaise Longue, which positioned itself almost as a silly novelty song, with its random lyrics, deadpan delivery and irreverent video. I thought it was a fun and catchy little earworm, but novelty is hard to sustain over an album let alone a career, so it’s a good thing that the rest of the songs, while still keeping up with the duo’s sense of humour, are rather more nuanced.

Wet Leg is the kind of near-perfect debut from a fully formed band that you hope will not remain forever an albatross around their neck. It doesn’t necessarily offer anything radically new, borrowing generously from a myriad of 90s and 00s guitar bands, but it’s immaterial when the hooks and choruses are that good and plentiful, and the overall effect is so fresh. The album really sounds like it was made for the pure giddy fun of it. Lyrically, there are many funny, sarcastic and cheeky moments (Piece of Shit is a hilariously scathing song about a full-of-himself boyfriend), while at other times Teasdale is more melancholy, reflecting on the uncertainties and anxieties of being in your late 20s.

Debut albums like these are notoriously hard to live up to, but I’m rooting for Wet Leg to avoid this trap, and hopefully I can see them live again playing their own show some day.

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