Some bands reach ‘a level’, one where they are literally everywhere yet somehow manage to surreptitiously fly under the radar. It’s a fortunate hole for a band to pigeon themselves in – and let’s face it – for a solid period of two years, BASTILLE were inescapable.
When ‘Pompeii’ erupted at the start of 2013, it sparked more questions than answers; who was this band and where the hell did they appear from? Could they live up to their own hype? Was it humanly possible to avoid their music? To the latter at least, the answer was clearly “no”, and if it wasn’t ‘Pompeii’ then it was the similarly addictive ‘Laura Palmer’. But then the chorus stops being so great, and the hook stops being so charming, and all of a sudden a band that was suddenly thrust forward as an international beacon of Brit hope can find themselves flipside in the realm of the caustic irritant. “Ugh, not Bastille” or “Skip ‘Pompeii’ for my sanity please”.
As a listener, it is hard to know where your heart lies, so as a band such changeability must be perturbing – and change it did – for in less than a year (or perhaps overnight) the four-piece went from riding a respectable slow burn to ascending to high sitting festival slots. Vocalist Dan Smith’s battle with performance anxiety has been well documented; it was only earlier this summer that he suffered a panic attack midway through their Glastonbury set, one that went undetectable by the crowd but was nonetheless real. Another source of unease was second album stress.
How do you follow an album that was as warmly received – albeit, more so by fans than critics – as Bad Blood? There’s a lot of expectation and it begs the eternal second-round conundrum; do you play it safe and deliver more of the same, or detach to the extent that you risk alienating your target audience? It seems that even now, given their penchant for trying to appease all sides, Bastille continue to straddle the fence but from a marginally different perch.
It’s doubtful that even burying your head in the sand would have meant that you avoided ‘Good Greif’, the leading track and single from their new album Wild World. It’s one of those that you know all the words to without ever consciously listening to it, but it is unmistakeably “Bastille”. All of the earmarks are there; massive chorus, hooking melody and Smith’s distinctive vocal which – let’s be honest – is one of those voices that you either love to love or love to hate. That aside, you can’t deny that the band have a knack for writing a big pop tune and that along the way they have found the nook into which they fit.
Despite being poppy enough to infiltrate the airwaves, their subject matter tends to err on the side of morose, after all, who thinks to write a song about two fossilised corpses in conversation (‘Pompeii’ btw). Similarly, Wild World is an album compiled of anxiety and reflection of the state of the world at present; ‘Good Grief’ exercises the five stages of loss, whilst ‘The Currents’ tears into modern right-wing politics, the rapid-fire, skittish beats aptly illustrating the apprehension that comes with watching the news these days.
Elsewhere, the band drop bassy electronics and exotic acoustics into the mix via the disarmingly simple ‘An Act Of Kindness’, which pays off in ways that ‘Warmth’ doesn’t quite muster, but that’s not to say that they have got too adventurous, mind; the recently unveiled ‘Send Them Off!’ triumphs with its booming brass and easily discernable chorus whereas the more emotive ‘Glory’ takes the strings out for an airing.
And that is perhaps the most frustrating thing about Bastille, that despite being clearly worthy of gaining mainstream success, as artists they still manage to fall back into their old clichés no matter how much they battle – be it lyrical, topical or musical. In that way, second-album jitters are perhaps quite unfounded with this new outing being enjoyable and chart-worthy, yet simultaneously forgettable. That said however, in the coming year there is no doubt that you will probably know a great portion of Wild World, even had you never bought it.