Single Review: The Wombats – ‘1996’

“Cheaply copied reminiscences of a blurrily imagined decade are basically their own genre now”


Digital Release: November 30, 2011

Physical Release: N/A

All’s fair and friendly in indie pop. It’s just the way it is. You could even say indie pop is generally a very nice place to be on the music spectrum, because of some strangely careless quality about the music that grows underneath that umbrella term. In almost every London-loving indie pop entity, you’ll find yourself tripping over that typically romanticised nostalgia for years gone by; the deadpan awkwardness of unlikely love affairs; the image of skinny white nerds with questionable hair learning life lessons by whoring out their instruments to create unusual and wonderful sounds, while some deliriously uncharismatic lead singer molests the mic and refuses to keep his eyes open for more than two lines at a time. But even so, there’s still something charmingly casual about indie pop, something unusually nonchalant about being in a band that doesn’t care about the relevance of what they’re saying. Not once does it ever feel like indie pop is screaming for attention (regardless of how recklessly overwrought some of it is), or wrestling other bands or whole genres to the ground in a fight for the most media coverage or the best chart positions. It’s one of those genres that ‘pootles’ along with no sort of agenda; a pleasant countryside excursion while the bigger music forces battle it out in sterilised, stainless steel-finished boardrooms. Of course, that’s not to say indie pop is completely and unquestionably non-commercial, as these precious little indie pop ditties are gratuitously thankful whenever a certain song strays from the underground and enjoys it’s fifteen minutes.

The reason for this chilled approach is probably because most of the people making indie pop spend their time either making indie pop or being high and making indie pop, both methods returning very favourable results if you factor out some of the claims to being philosophical and fabulously objective that can occur when people like Charlie Fink and Matthew Murphy opt for Third Person narratives over trivial commentaries on their own lives.

The Wombats’ new single, ‘1996’, couldn’t have a clearer connotation. In it, they yearn over an overblown production for supposedly the defining moments that 1996 brought them, though you can’t help feel this song brings them further still toward the label of “joke act” they’ve been trying to distance themselves from, if not for the song’s goofy humour, then for the fact that Matthew Murphy’s lyrics don’t make sense. Murphy was twelve years old in 1996, and it seems like the things that defined that era for him at that tender young age were prank calls and cloning sheep, before he then goes on to complain about the way things are today, prompting the line “I’m not cut out for the modern life” as quite possibly the most offensively snobbish rebuffing of “this modern glitch”. It’s as if he’s turning his nose up to life after the turn of the millennium, despite the recreation of his love for 1996 sounding almost as superficial as his perceived view of today. But of course, cheaply copied reminiscences of a blurrily imagined decade are basically their own genre now. Screw indie pop; that’s too modern. The Wombats are all about being cloudy, proud and pompous with their music-as-music-criticism on ’1996’, but the message that rings out loudest probably isn’t the intentional one: it all seems just a tad unnecessary.


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