enerally speaking, when an upstart indie band finds themselves characterized in relation to “the world”—as in “This is the most promising indie-rock band in the world right now”—it’s more an expression of the hyperbolic nature of their closed-circuit fanbase than of any actual global appeal. The Wombats, however, are one of those rare exceptions to the rule; despite only being at the stage in their career where they’re playing SXSW showcases and basking in the reflected glory of their singles receiving daytime airplay in their native Britain, they’ve already toured the Far East extensively, including one show in China which drew ten thousand rabid fans. Oh, and if their debut album Girls, Boys & Marsupials is any indication, they may actually be the most promising indie-rock band in the world.
In light of the effort I’m about to put forward in advocacy of Girls, Boys & Marsupials, it’s important to note right off the bat that it’s not a document of the Wombats’ realization of their potential—in fact, it’s pretty much the exact opposite. Recorded in a matter of weeks for the Japanese boutique label Vinyl Junkies, Girls, Boys & Marsupials contains an unavoidable amount of exactly what you’d expect from a band of early twenty-somethings hurriedly making a record intended for release half a world away from their peer group: filler.
The band only ever manages to really realize their potential on the actual singles (“Moving to New York,” “Lost in the Post,” and “Backfire @ The Disco,” all which rank alongside the best work by Bloc Party or the Futureheads). The rest of the tracks either venture into territory which the Wombats aren’t quite equipped to productively explore yet (the lilting stalker-pop of “Little Miss Pipedream”) or outright fail to recognize their own limitations. (Five minutes’ worth of “Metro Song”? Really?) At least three-quarters of Girls, Boys & Marsupials can be described as wholly unnecessary, and you’d be forgiven for deleting it immediately upon importing it to your iTunes.
Of course, you’d also be an idiot. Girls, Boys & Marsupials may be dominated by filler, but even their filler belies an incredible gift for pop songcraft. Even during their lesser moments, it’s clear that the Wombats have a gift for vividly verbalizing their failure to connect with the world around them rarely seen this side of Belle & Sebastian; every word on Girls, Boys & Marsupials sounds like the end result of an exhaustive selection process, even when said process finds itself applied to tasks as shopworn as being fixated on a stripper or exploring the metaphorical usefulness of board games vis-à-vis relationships. You could probably reassign these same songs to the Long Blondes or Franz Ferdinand and come away with a product of equivalent musical canniness, albeit without the snarling, outrocking guitar underpinning all the jangling pop melodies on the surface. More important, however, an awful lot of the material on Girls, Boys & Marsupials sounds primed to make a leap with only the most moderate supervision required. “My First Wedding,” for instance, could be conquering audiences right now if it weren’t for the extended rock-out coda extending its running time to nearly four and a half minutes.
Given the gross inability of Vinyl Junkies to meet the demand for Girls, Boys & Marsupials (the album’s already gone through several re-pressings, due in no small part to the unrelenting voracity of British importers), it’s impossible to turn a blind eye towards the Wombats’ future: they’re a dead certainty to release a “proper” debut album helmed by a “proper” producer which comes off as exponentially slicker and more cohesive than their Japan-only freshman effort. Casual fans who uncritically like the Wombats singles they’ve heard would probably be well-advised to wait for that album; Girls, Boys & Marsupials isn’t a cheap import, and it’s hard to justify buying when only three or four songs are truly great.
Then again, I happen to like the idea of the Wombats as a band; I find their “Postcard Records rocks out” approach supernaturally satisfying, and there’s more than enough of it spread over Girls, Boys & Marsupials’ forty-three minutes to justify confronting their limitations as a young band every time I cue the album up. You could even say I’m taking the opportunity to do so while I still can.
Reviewed by: James Cobo
Reviewed on: 2007-06-12