It all seemed too good to be true. In late 2021 I caught wind of a young band from the Isle of Wight that scored an improbable viral hit about a chaise longue. As someone who has bemoaned the state of indie rock over the past decade and more – like any petulant middle-aged Gen-Xer will do – this was exactly the kind of thing I was hoping would come around the pike: a saucy, sassy young rock band who channeled all the best facets of 1990s American indie rock, the scathing ’90s feminist Britpop of Elastica and Sleeper, and the edgier alt-rock sounds of 2000s bands like The Strokes and Clinic. That attitude seemed to have died as the 2000s went on, especially as the indie rock bands that attracted the lion’s share of attention tended to be fey, understated, and frankly, boring.
Wet Leg did not seem boring, but by the time 2022 rolled around there was already a backlash from cooler-than-thou keyboard warriors complaining how contrived the whole marketing strategy for the young band seemed to them. The women, Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, had barely gotten their feet off the ground, had a very good label behind them in Domino, a hit single under their belts, and there were people who were arrogantly declaring them to be “over”. Personally I did approach Wet Leg with caution, because I’ve been let down by heavily hyped British bands in the past. But then “Wet Dream” came out, the best evisceration of toxic masculinity by a British band since Elastica released “Stutter” in 1995. “What makes you think you’re good enough to think about me when you’re touching yourself?” sneers Teasdale, who goes on to stick the dagger even deeper as she sings tauntingly, “You said, ‘Baby, do you want to come home with me? I’ve got Buffalo ’66 on DVD.'” As someone who remembers how many hipster doofuses fetishized Christina Ricci’s bowling alley tap dance to King Crimson in the overrated Vincent Gallo film, it completely won me over. That is some brutally savage wit, and I am here for it.
Then “Angelica” came out, probably my favourite track on the album, an hilarious psychedelic tune about a girl who’s horribly bored at a party and just wants to leave: “I don’t wanna follow you on the ‘gram / I don’t wanna listen to your band / I don’t know why I haven’t left yet.” And the more I listened to the album throughout the year, the better it got. At first glance it’s a very singles-heavy record, but the deep cuts gradually get their hooks into the listener. “Oh No” is total ’90s silliness loaded with acerbic social commentary, “Loving You” and “Piece of Shit” are withering in how they both emasculate the narrator’s ex, while “Too Late Now” brings the brisk, 36-minute album to a perfect denouement as Teasdale decides that she doesn’t need a lover, nor parties, nor free beer: “I’m not sure if this is a song / I don’t even know what I’m saying / Everything is going wrong / I think I changed my mind again / I just need a bubble bath / To set me on a higher path.”
But then I always, always come back to the sheer brilliance of what is “Chaise Longue”. The detached, sarcastic vocal delivery is perfect, a mood that would be very difficult for any other singer to capture as well as Teasdale does here. It’s amazing enough that she actually sings the lines “Is your muffin buttered? Would you like us to assign someone to butter your muffin?” so dryly, but the kicker is when she confronts a dude on the titular furniture. “Hey you, over there / On the chaise longue in your underwear / What are you doing sitting down?” she mumbles, “You should be horizontal now.” It took me the entire year to realize that it’s not an attempt at seduction, but rather a scathing retort to someone who isn’t using that piece of furniture as it was intended. Lie down on it like you’re supposed to, or get the hell off. It still cracks me up thinking about it.
Man, what an album. Of all the new stuff I heard in 2022, Wet Leg brings me the most joy, and it gets better and better the more I hear it, which by now has been a lot.