London-based trio Dream Wife – Alice Go, Bella Podpadec and Rakel Mjöll – released their self-titled debut in 2018 to critical acclaim, earning support slots with the likes of Garbage, Sleigh Bells and The Kills, sold-out international headline shows, all the while using their platform to lift up other womxn and non-binary creatives with empowering messages and their “girls to the front” ethos.

I was looking forward to this one and, after spending a week or so with this record, I have to confess it’s fallen into the “difficult second album” space and I’m interested to see how fans will react to it. It’s significantly softer than their debut, the rawness of the guitars is gone, the tempo of all the songs is slow. The cover suggests a much more punchy album and many of the songs need a few listens to bed in or stand out.

Opener Sports! is great but will be better live. Validation has echoes of Placebo in the chorus but, for a song under three minutes, it manages to hit you with the chorus a few too many times that I found a little grating. That said, the more I hear it the more I think I’m wrong and it’s actually wonderfully catchy. Like I say, they need a few listens to stick!

Capturing their sound perfectly here though is the recent release Temporary. The simple verse blossoms into a wonderful chorus with a genuinely inspiring arrangement of bass, guitar, drums and vocals. Of the songs here it is my favourite. U Do U has a Pixies Here Comes Your Man vibe to it (as does a lot of this record) and captures the difficulty of trying to build and maintain a relationship when travelling all the time. It’s a real “lighters in the air” moment. RH RN, which follows, again has that crowd singalong anthem moment on the chorus as Rakel sings “We are the youngest we will ever be, we are the oldest we have ever been.” over a background of garagey distorted guitars. Old Flame doesn’t bring anything to the album except a cloyingly annoying pop chorus.

Title track So When You Gonna… is the song that lives up to the cover. It’s a punk song through and through and gives the album a much needed shot in the arm but again is one destined for the live arena rather than repeated listens.

Again, the real surprise is how mid tempo the record is. Aside from opener Sports! and So When You Gonna… the other tracks are very basic middle of the road songs. From the glorious chaotic cover my expectations were for a solid pop rock punk record but this has all the edge of melting butter in places. While that’s not a criticism I was hoping for more based on their debut. The urgency and instrumentation sound soft and that is clearly a deliberate choice – they were going for a fragile sound – it’s just not one that helps the songs meet their potential. The vocals are superb and the bite is raw – it’s just the guitars and drums that sound like they’ve had a dish cloth draped over them. Smothered. I can’t wait to hear the kick of Homesick live so it meets the promise I can see it has. Produced by Marta Salogni who has produced Björk and FKA Twigs so there is talent here for sure.

Having seen Dream Wife several times live, but most vividly at Leith Theatre as part of Hidden Door a few years back, I was really hoping they’d capture that raw energy of their performances and it’s a shame that they have gone in a different direction. The songs as they are presented here are all okay and it’s certainly not bad in any way. A solid 6 out of ten.

So When You Gonna… is out now, via Lucky Number