It seems as though Dream Wife exist merely to remind everyone that at one point Yeah Yeah Yeahs were the pinnacle for female-fronted rock bands. The London-based trio haven’t forged their own path since debuting in 2014; they’ve simply been a hodgepodge of 2000s NYC post-punk revivalism, merging the aspects that folks loved the most about The Strokes and just giving it the Karen O spin – but, crucially, they lack the charisma that makes both of those bands enjoyable. On their sophomore album So When You Gonna… the triad has barely tweaked that formula at all.
Everything that made their self-titled debut forgettable has been brought back and laboriously run into the ground. Opening cut “Sports!” attempts to be as witty as something from Priests – another post-punk band that carved out their own niche, only with great success – but for Dream Wife it comes off as lazy, with lyrics that are more childish than biting. The song’s lines like “Put your money where your mouth is” and “these are the rules” don’t evoke much of a stand-up and fight mentality, which is what they’re aiming for, instead they just feel like catch phrases doodled on a textbook. Even the mimicry of video game trope “choose your player” is goofy, and doesn’t add anything compelling to an already watered-down take.
“Hasta La Vista” isn’t that much better, showing off the band’s unoriginality and haphazard approach to meshing rock radio hits of the mid-2000s with those of the mid-80s. But, all of this could have been forgiven if Dream Wife’s hooks would land with some semblance of finesse. This is evident when they roll through “Homesick” with that same rehashed riff and bizarrely pair it with an ear-plugging screech; it may be one of the few moments where So When You Gonna… actually becomes unpredictable, but it’s too off-putting to be something that makes you want to listen again.
Not every band will take the right risks at the right time, but with Dream Wife it’s become glaringly obvious that innovation isn’t their strong suit. When they first came out, many attributed a strong influence from Bikini Kill, The Slits, and X-Ray Spex to Dream Wife’s likability. Those comparisons were apt on the last record, but on So When You Gonna… there’s a clear shift to less interesting influences: there’s strands of Franz Ferdinand, The Libertines, The Hives, and so many more bands that had a good hit song or two, but ultimately didn’t add up to much in the long run despite the popularity they amassed.
If there’s a saving grace to be found on So When You Gonna… it’s how beautifully in sync the band is when they harmonize, like on “U Do U”; they unite on the chorus and it genuinely shimmers. It’s a shame though, as there’s room for this kind of cohesiveness in other areas, but the chemistry is just tragically wasted in lieu of safety.