Attack of the Ironic Wombats

Image: Attack of the Ironic Wombats

When the debut album from UK group The Wombats arrived on my desk I was pretty sure I'd hate it.

When the debut album from UK group The Wombats arrived on my desk I was pretty sure I’d hate it. It had a strong whiff of bad Indie Rock angst—out of tune guitars and melodramatic stage antics carefully choreographed by some record-company to find its market share. So it is with much embarassment that I report, several weeks later, than I can’t get these songs out of my head.

The sound of The Wombats Proudly Present: A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation is everything you’d expect from an energetic indie rock trio with a reputation for great live shows. Front man Matthew Murphy provides the pommy accent and cheeky guitar hooks that sit perfectly with the tight and very danceable rhythm section. It’s always a challenge for a live band to make a record, but the group avoids the sterility of a studio sound. The album is rough and energetic, helped along on a few tracks by the sloppy group vocals of some local school kids.

But, apart from the great hooks, what kept this album in my head was the really insightful lyrics. Take “Let’s Dance to Joy Division”, for example. The track is one of the most popular dance-floor tunes on the record, and with its high energy beat it’s not hard to see why it works. But beneath the superficial optimism and is an ironic lament for our generation:

Let’s dance to Joy Division,
And celebrate the irony,
Everything is going wrong,
But we’re so happy,

For those of us not alive in the 70s, a quick search on Wikipedia reveals that Joy Division were an English rock band firmly rooted in the post-punk era. Anyone who has ever tried to dance to their music will quickly get the sense that there is a dark ironic undercurrent to the Wombat’s seemingly carefree message. As it happens, the lead singer of Joy Division, Ian Curtis, struggled for years with depression, illness and a relationship breakdown. In 1980 he killed himself, right at the pinnacle of the band’s career.

And there’s the irony in the song: you can’t dance to Joy Division, and even if you could Joy Division is itself anything but joyful. The “small piece of advice” which the song writer is offering (that if we “raise our glass to the ceiling” we can “find the cure to a broken heart”) is a false saviour. It always has been, and it always will be. As a solution to despair, the world’s joys of partying and alcohol abuse always end up being part of the problem. I love rock music that isn’t afraid to confront these kinds of things.

In listening to this song, however, I was reminded though of another piece of writing about joy: the letter to the Philippians by Paul. Sitting in jail, facing a death penalty, alone and unwell, Paul could well say that “everything is going wrong”. But ironically, his letter is all about “Joy”. Where does this joy come from? Who is Paul’s saviour?

That’s the real “cure for a broken heart”.


 

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