It isn’t immediately obvious that private LIFE, Virginia Wing’s fourth album, is their most engaging album to date. Anyone might think it’s ‘just’ Ecstatic Arrow Mk. 2 – and neither artist nor listener would be to blame, given how the Manchester group’s 2018 release represents such a strident leap forward that it would be inadvisable to do anything too off-piste for the follow-up.
The two LPs are linked by a similar strain of ‘fourth world’ production, covertly masking what is essentially pop in the avant tradition of Peter Gabriel. Vocalist Alice Merida Richards’ speak-sing approach fits the bill too, sitting at a Laurie Anderson monotone until errant emotions permit a melodic flight to the upper register, complementing her lyrical desire for escape. “Paradise became a motorway,” she sings on ‘99 North’, neatly summating the thrill of movement now that the prospect of far-flung travel has all but vanished – deeply resonant to someone who spent New Year’s Eve 2020 in joggers with the Hootenanny, who fears that 2021’s celebrations might somehow shake out to be even worse: “I’m reaching, I’m holding out, holding out for something.”
Aside from its tighter presentation of Virginia Wing’s existing sound, private LIFE benefits from a doubled-down dedication to the specific wild abandon only pop can offer. ‘Moon Turn Tides’ swaggers like a reimagined version of Gal Costa’s ‘Relance’ remixed for club consumption by Timbaland, its wheezing organs playing against stomping marching band horns. ‘St. Francis Fountain’ and ‘Half Mourning’ harken back to Yellow Magic Orchestra, sealed with the sophisti-pop gloss of saxophonist Chris Duffin, his smooth licks swirling across the mix.
All this, and it’s still difficult to say why private LIFE is as great as it is. Overt comparisons to past work seems detrimental to what a group produces presently, but in Virginia Wing’s case, what they’re doing right now elevates their career as a whole. They’ve outed themselves as having been onto something all along.
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