In the age of stan-culture – where everything is ‘legendary’ and/or a ‘cultural reset’ – it can be hard to differentiate genuine hype from the perpetual noise. There’s no doubting, however, the grassroots enthusiasm that has followed Isle of Wight duo Wet Leg (formed of Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers) over the last year.
Their viral debut single “Chaise Longue” combined post-punk arrangements with Mean Girls quotes and suggestive lyrics about getting the “big D” – which refers to their university degree… of course! Amidst the backdrop of Britain’s often self-serious indie scene, the song’s refusal to take itself too seriously felt like a refreshing act of rebellion. Accordingly, it turned Wet Leg into the buzziest band in recent years. With just a handful of songs to their name, the band have already enjoyed multiple performances on US late-night TV and universal acclaim among the British press.
Suffice to say, the stakes could hardly be higher for the duo’s debut. The perceived success or failure of their first LP has the potential to turn the band into one of the decade’s most successful indie-rock acts – or alternately, to relegate them to dreaded one-hit-wonder status. With any justice, their self-titled debut will do the former, as it largely delivers on the band’s early promise with some of the catchiest, cleverest, and frankly funniest tracks of the year.
Across 12 tracks, the band never lose the arch sense of humour that defined Wet Leg’s pre-release singles. Such an enduring commitment to the comical may sound grating, but in the hands of Teesdale and Chambers it’s executed deftly to largely successful results. “Angelica”, an obvious highlight here, sees the band combine 90s-inspired slacker rock with humour, nonchalance and enough timely-references to remind listeners exactly when the song was released (“I don’t want to follow you on the ‘Gram”).
The duo’s humour works best when it’s employed in service of a greater purpose – be that decrying the pitfalls of modern-dating (“I don’t need no dating app to tell me if I look like crap / To tell me if I’m thin or fat / To tell my should I shave my rat”) or simply offering a killer put-down (“When I think about what you’ve become / I feel sorry for your mum”). The album’s few-and-far-between lyrical blunders – the occasional cynical attempt at generating shock via the F-word or a predictable “suck my dick” retort – occur when the band get lost in their own unseriousness.
Many of Wet Leg’s best moments also happen to be its most dramatic – where largely relatable experiences are blown up to cinematic proportions and treated with life-or-death significance. “Oh No” sees the duo tackle the horrors of social media with cries of “I’m scrolling, I’m scrolling” sung with all the feverish terror of someone facing down death, while the fantastic “Too Late Now” evokes all the drama of Thelma and Louise in its manifesto-like declaration, “I’m gonna drive my car into the sea”. “Angelica”, meanwhile, transforms the mundane malaise associated with an underwhelming party into something viscerally claustrophobic – with repeat references to eyeing the door and strategically binge drinking set against hurried guitar arrangements.
The press coverage of Wet Leg’s meteoric rise has often focused on the duo’s oddball lyrics and idiosyncratic quirks. Under-appreciated in this narrative is the duo’s preternatural ability to create outrageously infectious hooks – the sort that play on an endless loop in your head and beg you to press the repeat button again and again. Given this, it’s not hard to imagine Wet Leg becoming some of modern-rock’s most in demand song-writers in the coming years.
Nearly every song on the band’s self-titled debut gives way to an anthemic, driving chorus within its first minute-or-so. It makes each song excellent on its own, but can lead to a somewhat exhausting experience for anyone listening to the album front-to-back. The exception to this rule is “Loving You”, a dreamy, tragedy-laced number that unfolds unencumbered at its own place. Wet Leg could do with a few more moments like this.
Perhaps Wet Leg’s faults – as few and far between as they are – are for the best. On their debut album, Teasdale and Chambers draw on a number of influences from 90s indie-rock; most obviously Sonic Youth, Sleater-Kinney and Liz Phair. Perhaps the latter artist could serve as a cautionary tale for the Isle of Wight duo; Phair’s debut Exile In Guyville delivered so fully on her early potential that she’s spent the rest of her career living in its shadow – nearly three decades after that album’s release, magazines still run her interviews under headlines like “Beyond Guyville”. In many ways, it’s Wet Leg’s small imperfections that make it the perfect debut – an impressive, tantalising exploration of their core talents that leaves just enough room for improvement.