I sat down to write this thinking “how am I going to be an optimist about this?”: a good question put to us by Bastille frontman, Dan Smith. Featuring the destructive titles ‘Pompeii’, ‘Things We Lost In The Fire’ and ‘Icarus’, it seemed apt for me to attempt to knock the band’s debut studio album from the pedestal it’s been wrongly placed upon. Judging by the amount of radio airtime the band has received, it’s evident that everyone is ignorant to repetitive-sounding the 40 minute runtime is.
Having made the charts on the other side of the Atlantic, there’s a part of me that feels the positivity that oozes from ‘Bad Blood’ better suits the aspirational “American dream” than pessimistic Britons like myself. Lyrics such as “we sure as hell have nothing now” are sung with such overwhelming positivity that it is easy to overlook the negativity of such a phrase. The upbeat tone to the album, for me, is encapsulated in one word: contrived.
One positive thing that can be said for the album, however, is the instrumentation – programmed beats are seamlessly integrated with live drumming and tuned percussion… which would be great, if it wasn’t for the fact that all of this is undermined by the belting voice of Dan Smith which overpowers every track. It’s irrefutable that the man can sing; it’s just a shame that he has to sing quite so upbeat, and quite so domineeringly because it jeopardises the ease-of-listening of the album.
Smith’s voice is one-toned and to me, sounds heavily strained. There’s also the issue of the “oohs” and “ayy-ayy”s; which as far as I can see, attempt to add depth and dimension to the songs but merely give the impression that the band haven’t got enough substance, lyrically or instrumentally. Then again, I suppose listeners of cheesy pop music rarely appreciate the layering in such a track.
I also suspect that lyrically, the clever references to Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in ‘Weight Of Living Pt. I’; “there’s an albatross around your neck” completely evade the listener. To someone unaware of these subtleties, the lyrics must seem obscure, non-sensical even. Why on Earth would you willingly sing songs about wearing an albatross around your neck without understanding that doing so is meant to be a symbol of bad luck? Then again, why would you willingly purchase a song about what a fox says, despite being perfectly aware that foxes do not have the capacity to interact with humans? People continue to astound me.
It’s quite clear that Bastille try to appeal to a broad target audience, as there are influences as broad reaching as ’80s band A-ha (‘Take On Me’ having potentially the best music video to come from this era), to Coldplay, to Mumford and Sons and Arcade Fire evident within the album. But the result of such a random mash-up of genre is a band that seems to try and canvas fans from across the board in a desperate bid to become universally popular.
It can’t possibly last, we’ll see what they give us in their next album.