Words by Ed King
I once (half) joked that Bastille wouldn’t be able to release a follow up album until Dan Smith had another relationship break up. After all, the phenomenally successful (and catchy) Bad Blood was a litany of growing pains and heart ache – what could he (now they) pen 10+ more tracks about if not rooted in appropriated teen angst?
Well, the day is here. Festival showcases have been drip feeding the music consumer masses new material, and now, on September 9th, in the year of our lord 2016, Bastille are back for Act II. Wild World is out on general release, with a string of high profile live dates to ram it further down your oesophagus – starting at Festival No6 and Bestival, ending at Newcastle’s Metro Radio (nee Telewest) Arena in November. And that’s a big fu*king room.
“Our second is about trying to make sense of the world around you, both as you see it and as it’s presented to you through the media,” explains Dan Smith – courtesy of Bastille’s Wild World press release. “It’s also about asking questions of the world and of the people in it. We wanted the album to be a bit disorientating – at times extroverted and introverted, light and dark.”
‘Disorientating’ isn’t how I’d describe Wild World, but it certainly jumps enough from pole to pole to keep your compass spinning. Much of Bad Blood (and I won’t base this review in comparison) began life as a solo endevour, with raw melodies and dairy scribbled lyrics that felt inherently personal – this was part of what made Bastille’s debut LP so endearing. That and crack cocaine melodies.
But from the first few bars (and Kelly LeBrock/Weird Science quote) of ‘Good Grief’, the sophomore’s opening track, you can feel the husky driven horde of production dragging it uncomfortably through snow. Is that funk, pop, soul? Is that a Vanilla Ice bass line? I’m still not sure what it is… and by the time the obnoxiously radio friendly chorus kicks in I’ve stopped caring.
‘The Currents’, track No#2, starts equally as confused – a speed garage rasping bass line, staccato string sample, and lyrics that feel like sloppy copy mélange from the ghost of LPs past. 2 x 3 ½ min rounds in and I’m beginning to get annoyed.
Then a stripped back return to the keyboard ushers in ‘An Act of Kindness’; Smith’s mournful lament over ivory begins simple enough, before reverbed vocals and staggered layers sets up a stormer of a new track. And I mean new in every possible sense – this is not Bad Blood Bastille, this is not a quick fire amalgamation, this is new. New and good, oh so fu*king good. By the time the second chorus kicks in I am driving down the motorway shouting the words at my dashboard.
The rest of the album follows a similar vein – some swings, some misses, some balls knocked out of the park; Wild World is a fourteen track career expansion, with a major label agenda clearly stoking the coals.
‘Warmth’ is an odd attempt to fix political commentary (…hhhmm) over a Casio backing track and 80’s party anthem, whilst ‘Send Them Off!’ is a staggeringly punchy anthem (out as a single on Oct 7th) which straddles a right hook chorus with pin point body blow verses. All kinds of awesome.
‘Power’ begins as a litigiously brave homage to ‘Friction’ by The XX, before becoming as awful and obvious as you can get with sample rock riffs leading the charge. ‘Blame’ falls into the same electric six string trap; not a bad song or melody, but lost in the confusion of an 80’s production portmanteau.
Then you have the gloriously bluesy ballad ‘Two Evils’, which sticks to its uncompromising steel guitar guns for the full 2mins 46secs. ‘Four Walls (The Ballad of Perry Smith)’ follows the same suit, but more James Bay than Chris Isaak; neither will make Playlist A but they’re both reassuringly mature and well crafted songs.
Overall there are a few too many oh-so-clever cultural reference points in Wild World for my liking, and the overarching complaint is too many cooks – but as follow ups go, this is a pretty successful release. ‘Disorientating’, if you say so… I’ll stick with confused.
But something is clearly clear with Wild World – Dan Smith has more than a debut album to offer the world. And the world should listen.
Bastille needed to move away from the piano led laments and solo screams to become anything bigger than an epitaph to Bad Blood, and their ‘tricky second album’ is a strong move forward. It is a successful return to the public domain, one that will work well live, and with enough creative development and Radio One potential to balance both sides of the music/industry see-saw.
And as far as I can tell, no Valentine’s Day cards were hurt in the process. Job done gents, job done.
‘Send them Off!’ – Bastille
Wild World by Bastille is out now, on general release through Virgin Records.
For more on Bastille, including online sales & full tour details, visit www.bastillebastille.com