Apologies To The Queen Mary Turns 10
The first few drumbeats tell you a lot about what you’re getting into — jarringly violent and off-kilter, they jolt you to attention and whip your body into a halting, unnatural rhythm. Soon the keyboards and guitars are hitting just as hard, feral pounding and scraping somehow reined into coordinated musical muscle. Then we meet the first of our two elusive narrators, this howling freakmonster who sounds like he’s about to snap. Every syllable out of Spencer Krug’s mouth is loaded with tension, nerves frayed, spinning a metaphor about a marathon so intense you might collapse along with him. It’s harrowing, and it’s only the beginning.
What’s crazy is that “You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son” is not even close to the best song on Apologies To The Queen Mary. Wolf Parade’s debut album is stacked with indie-rock classics, the kinds of songs that grab you by the face and make you feel like you’re spreading your arms skyward atop earth’s most treacherous peak and all your pleasure and pain receptors are giving each other high-fives. Even in private, this album is a rush, and its power is even stronger in the company of fellow devotees. People can connect over just about any shared musical passion, but anecdotally, Wolf Parade’s anthems are especially contagious. Years after this album dropped, I remember watching a couple dozen high school kids on a youth group retreat absolutely losing their shit to “I’ll Believe In Anything,” bounding around a room and climbing on top of each other and generally acting like insane people. I remember car rides packed with friends screaming along to every track. I remember seeing Wolf Parade at the 2010 Pitchfork festival and feeling widespread communal euphoria whenever they launched into something from this record. Wolf Parade made a lot of excellent, interesting music in their day, but Apologies is something else. It is a monument worthy of celebration.
2005 was a lupine time. Every trendy band seemed to have “Wolf” in its name: Wolf Eyes, Wolfmother, Wolves In The Throne Room, AIDS Wolf, Wolf Colonel, We Are Wolves, and on and on. (A friend and I had a running joke about our fictional experimental noise project, Trophy Wolf.) The aughts also brought us waves of whale, deer, crystal, and bear bands; as with any trend, some were terrible, some were terribly unmemorable, and some stood the test of time. Wolf Parade stands above all that thanks to this album. Apologies To The Queen Mary went straight to the canon, where it remains today, on the verge of its 10th anniversary this Sunday. It was heralded as an instant classic, and 10 years later, it holds up.
Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock signed Wolf Parade to Sub Pop and produced Apologies, which makes sense; his band’s fingerprints were all over their sound, from the unhinged vocals out front to the eerie tweaked guitar harmonics that lingered on the fringes to the twitchy post-punk tendencies Brock borrowed from Talking Heads and the Pixies. But Wolf Parade hailed from Montreal, where Arcade Fire had just perfected the art of big-room indie-rock catharsis, and that band’s outsized ambition was in there too, the ability to take underground rock components and make them sound universal. There was a prog-rock theatricality about them, too. But whereas someone like Rick Wakeman or Eddie Van Halen would turn frantic arpeggios into lengthy spotlight solos, Wolf Parade used them like a drill, a tool to jack up the intensity of songs like “Grounds For Divorce” and “Fancy Claps” until they exploded. The instruments interact like magic in this music, guitars and keyboards and drums mingling in ways that mirror and support each other, giving each player spotlight moments and ultimately serving the songs. They’re arrangements, exquisite in a way that almost feels classical, yet they hit with the raw power of rock ‘n’ roll.
The key to the album, though, is the frenzied push and pull between its two songwriters, the way they balance each other out and amplify each other’s strengths. Like many dual frontmen, you can easily categorize Krug and Dan Boeckner — Krug the manic visionary John Lennon type sticking his finger in Black Francis’ wall socket and slinging lightning bolts, Boeckner the classicist Paul McCartney type (“It’s getting better all the time!”) channeling Bruce Springsteen’s grit (“This heart’s on fire!”) and holding down the foundation. One wails away like a wounded alien on “Dinner Bells,” the other’s husky bellow incites you to pump your fist to “Shine A Light.” It’s almost certainly reductive to say Boeckner grounded Apologies while Krug provided the flights of fancy — respectively, the sock-hop bop that drives “Dear Sons And Daughters Of Hungry Ghosts” and the eerie patchwork lo-fi of “Modern World” suggest Krug can play it straight and Boeckner can get weird when he wants to. Still, it’s remarkable how well their aesthetics overlap into a unified vision here given each musician’s unmistakable sonic point of view. Each of them has produced solid records on his own, but together, in this moment, they were unstoppable.
Wolf Parade would never be this populist again. At Mount Zoomer and Expo 86 were weirder, more experimental albums that required more of the listener, worlds that can only be explored on their own terms. After conquering one sound so thoroughly, what else can you do but venture out into the unknown? Apologies To The Queen Mary is far more approachable, an album that spins universal reverie out of family trauma, relational struggle, and spiritual crisis. It’s music that renders the horror and delight of life on Earth as an epic struggle we all share. “I’ll believe in anything!” Krug sings at the album’s peak, desperately reaching for a fresh start and the freedom of some anti-Cheers “where nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn.” Apologies To The Queen Mary itself can function as that kind of common ground, a set of inspiring songs many kinds of people can rally around, if only for a few fleeting moments. A decade into its history, it remains music worth believing in.