ALBUM REVIEW: Bombay Bicycle Club - Everything Else Has Gone Wrong
An overdue BBC shake-up for the post-Brexit age.
The horn sample that kicks off Everything Else Has Gone Wrong makes it clear that the 2020 return of Bombay Bicycle Club has left nothing behind in their artistic progression from overdriven major-ninth chords, to acoustic folk, to hip-hop inspired deep-dive sample searching that occurred in their development from 2009's debut I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose to now.
That sample on first tune 'Get Up' is as effective a way to open an album as it comes; immediately engaging and entirely reminiscent of BBC's last LP So Long, See You Tomorrow from back in 2014. Like that last album, writer/vocalist Jack Steadman's soft delivery floats effortlessly over a deliciously pungent guitar and bass riff. I do wish desperately that the volume 'level' of the drums could have been raised significantly, as they feel entirely drowned out by the surrounding instrumentation, but this still stands out as a particularly exciting way to start an LP after a six year wait. Despite this minor gripe, the impact of the horns that this project begins with should prove that this is absolutely not a poorly produced record. In fact, quite the opposite is true with Jack Congelton and Steadman himself responsible for what is (bar this singular issue) a brilliant sounding record.
Though the music is perhaps similar, the social (and particularly political) environment to which this new album has landed is almost entirely changed from the world that Bombay Bicycle Club left behind during their hiatus. Indeed, lead single 'Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You)' - one of our favourite singles of 2019 - was prefaced by the following intro in last year's accompanying music video:
"In 2016, the UK was rocked by a seismic event...
Bombay Bicycle Club went on indefinite hiatus.
Without their music, British society crumbled."
Well, I *guess* they have a point. But in that humourous linking of Bombay Bicycle Club and the tumultuous political landscape of the United Kingdom, it is evident to see that the monumental international political shifts of 2016 had a great significance to the group. Indeed guitarist Jamie MacColl (recent graduate of King's College, London's war studies department) has found himself particularly invested politically during the group's hiatus, but it is in the songwriting of frontman Steadman that Everything Else Has Gone Wrong emerges having something important to say about the state of the world.
Indeed the titular track suggests an air of pessimism with the band returning to music in such markedly different times. 'Turn the stereo on / Everything else has gone wrong' positions music as an escape, a final bastion for these musicians when considering the political environment we currently inhabit. Along with the pre-released singles 'Eat, Sleep, Wake' and 'I Can Hardly Speak', the first half of this record is front-loaded with utterly exceptional songs, spanning from the synth-rock 'Is It Real', to the understated and reflective 'Good Day'.
In my mind, that track 'Is It Real' is a slight disappointment, despite a great guitar riff bending about the place throughout. The lyrics are interesting, but compared to the songs that surround it, this second tune from the album is left sounding slightly like a boring Electric Light Orchestra knock-off, particularly disappointing considering how exciting the project began with the horns of 'Get Up'. Regardless, the guitar riff at the heart of 'Eat, Sleep, Wake' still feels as fresh and infectious as it did in the summer of 2019, as does the synth loop behind it and still stands out as an exceptional moment even when coming after four (out of five) great tunes on a great LP.
To this point, however, Everything Else... is perhaps guilty of following too closely in the footsteps of Bombay Bicycle Club's last album in their (now-trademark) combination of samples, synthesizers and Fender Jaguars. Seventh track 'I Worry Bout You' should then come as a welcomed oddity in the discography of the band. Opening up with a gorgeously syncopated backbeat combined with a recording of 'worried' feminine breathing, the track unfurls into a masterclass from drummer Suren de Saram. The off-kilter beat fits the tune perfectly without overstepping the boundary into showing-off-kilter for the sake of it.
On 'People People', long time collaborator Liz Lawrence finds herself an official 'featured' artist in duet with Steadman and together the two craft a gorgeous melody over a sedately satisfying bass performance from Ed Nash. The song crushes its way into a gritty distorted flavour towards its end - coming quite entirely from nowhere - but landing with the kind of visceral blast to keep its listeners engaged while heading into the tail-end of the project.
Saram gets another chance to impress on 'Do You Feel Loved?' supplying a satisfyingly erratic beat before perfectly dissolving into propellant choruses, and penultimate track 'Let You Go' feels appropriately introspective from the heart of as historically honest a songwriter as Steadman. Perhaps the song is guilty of being slightly dull, but the tune gets entertainingly uncontrollable as it develops into a wild second half.
The final track 'Racing Stripes', another of the album's pre-released singles, should be remembered as a song that reaches the emotional heights of even BBC's debut and 'The Giantess'. Steadman sings, as if wrestling against his very body to deliver the song's emotionally vulnerable lyricism. Repeating "this light will keep me going / and I don't even know / wherever I may go" while slowly amassing a chorus of singers behind him, the catharsis this album reaches in its closing moments is exactly what is often missing in LPs I hear. The closure of this album is appropriate and it is completely fulfilling, rounding this project off as a fantastic contribution to the discography of one of Britain's most consistently exceptional indie-rock groups.
This album, like everything before it still does not reach the heights of their 2009 debut, but the return of Bombay Bicycle Club is an entirely positive one. Only a few songs detract from a phenomenal collection of music, and the highs reached on tracks like 'Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You)' and 'Do You Feel Loved?' prove this to be an unmissable album from Jack Steadman and company.
- 8.5 -
'Eat Sleep Wake (Nothing But You)', 'I Worry Bout You', 'Do You Feel Loved?'
Ben Wheadon is editor and founder of Slow Motion Panic Masters. He is a Welsh musician and English Literature student at King's College, London and he should be writing a dissertation, instead of creating a blog.
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