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The Wombats

Just when one thought the new wave of the new wave of the new wave was all over bar the shouting, along came the deceivingly cuddly WOMBATS. Not of Australian stock but straight out of Merseyside, the English trio (singer/guitarist/keyboardist Matthew “Murph” Murphy, drummer/percussionist/keyboardist Dan Haggis and Norwegian-born bassist/guitarist/keyboardist Tord Overland-Knudsen) had formed a bond, and then a band, while attending the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts in 2003.
Tending initially to release only EPs and CD-r’s until a bona fide record label came calling, there was no less than six of them that emerged in the proceeding few years; mostly all of the tracks from `The Daring Adventures Of Sgt. Wimbo And His Pet Otter’, `The Hangover Sessions’, `Derail & Crash’, `Caravan In Wales’, `Happily Screwed’ and `The Ostrich Song’, featuring on a somewhat overlooked and, now rare, Japanese-only debut set, “Girl, Boys & Marsupials” (2006). Of course, many of the songs were re-recorded for their British debut set proper, although fans would have to be very patient before that day came some 14 months later.
One of the young signings to Kids independent, The WOMBATS ran off a succession of three 45s: `Lost In The Post’, `Moving To New York’ and minor hit (No.67) `Backfire At The Disco’, encouraging the enterprising 14th Floor Records to elevate them to potential stardom. At a time when ARCTIC MONKEYS, FRANZ FERDINAND and The FUTUREHEADS were among the leading lights in Britain’s post-punk revival, the superficial furry marsupials had to be something special to gain a foothold in a fickle and unforgiving music industry.
A spate of major hits was kick-started through `Kill The Director’ and the irony-riddled `Let’s Dance To Joy Division’, while re-vamps of `Moving To New York’, `Backfire At The Disco’ and the aforesaid `Kill The Director’ fitted onto the back of No.11-peaking set A GUIDE TO LOVE, LOSS & DESPERATION (2007) {*7}. The NME, Jo Whiley at BBC Radio 1 and the festival fans were all behind the surge of The WOMBATS up to summer 2008, even a cameo appearance on Aussie soap Neighbours did them no harm.
But for a anti-festive/holiday platter, `Is This Christmas?’, and a disappointingly low-performing `My Circuitboard City’ (late 2008-2009), The WOMBATS were in no hurry to sacrifice quality for quantity. By September 2010, the trio were back with a bang for Top 30 hit, `Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)’, one of over a dozen ditties cut in Los Angeles with producers Jacknife Lee and Eric Valentine. Bolstered further by Top 40 breakers `Jump Into The Fog’ and `Anti-D’, the long-awaited but well-timed sophomore set, THIS MODERN GLITCH (2011) {*6}, secured the lads a Top 3 place. Much more 80s or Britpop-90s than new wave 70s, with dinky disco and intellectual pop always at the core of Murph’s party-fuelled agenda, the anthemic tongue-in-cheek `Techno Fan’ was sure to get fans at festive time singing along again.
Prolific, probably not a word used much in The WOMBATS vocabulary, the trio were content to allow combos BASTILLE, HURTS and IMAGINE DRAGONS to challenge their blend of sunny-day synth-pop. While The WOMBATS were more or less the missing link between TEARS FOR FEARS and The KILLERS, 2015’s GLITTERBUG {*6} was hardly pushing the envelope out in a post-dated, stifling indie-pop world relying on YouTube or the new media enterprise to boost sales. Nevertheless, without a proper hit from `Your Body Is A Weapon’ (released as far back as 2013), `Greek Tragedy’ and `Give Me A Try’, producer Mark Crew and The WOMBATS were striking a chord while the iron was hot.
Switching to their own self-named label would make no difference chart-wise for 2018’s BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE {*7}, which, incidentally, again hit Top 3 status. Produced by Catherine Marks and the aforesaid Mark Crew, the top Scouse trio of the moment shook off previous comparisons… by hooking in fresh ones like XTC and BLUR. A trine of singles, `Lemon To A Knife Fight’, `Turn’ and `Cheetah Tongue’, unfortunately couldn’t create a ripple among the tide of peppy-pop littering the charts, however, The WOMBATS’ street-cred was firmly in place by way of catchy cuts, `White Eyes’ and `Dip You In Honey’.
© MC Strong/MCS Apr2015-Mar2018

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