Bastille are an alternative rock band from London. First formed in 2010, Bastille began as a solo project by singer-songwriter Dan Smith, who later decided to form a four-piece band. The name of the band derives from Bastille Day – the day that Dan Smith was born.
Their first studio album, titled Bad Blood, was released in March 2013, and has already reached the top the UK Albums Chart. We had a listen:
The album starts with the urban chanter ‘Pompeii’ [the single has already reached No 2 in the UK charts] which deftly compares the cataclysmic loss of the ancient city with the absence of meaning and purpose in our own city-lives here in UK 2013.
It is immediately clear that Dan Smith’s voice is a captivating amalgam of all the vocal styles and constructs you have loved over the years. The song begins with Smith singing at a Mercurial altitude. With Morrissey’s range – a woody baritone – edging towards falsetto.
Then the voice rasps, falls lower, and assumes a crooning attitude . And, with the “How am I gonna be an optimist about this” lyric you even start to get a whiff of breathy ‘Roy Stride’ in there too. Incredibly, the full effect is not a million miles away from ‘Florence + the Machine.’
‘Bad Blood’ is the first sense you get that the sounds have been built up -layer-by-layer – with synth. This feels like a dance-pop track that is trying to escape from indie-rock traps. The presumptuous reggae beat will remind you of Police’s “Can’t Stand Losing You” and Smith’s voice – together with the sheer quality of production – is reminiscent of ‘Tears for Fears’. This is a perfect pop delight.
The emotionally soaring ballad ‘Overjoyed’ is next door to ‘Bad Blood’. One can imagine this year’s festival crowds swaying in unison to this.
‘Icarus’ is a drama. About living life on the edge of danger. You may feel that you are flying too high. And closer and closer to oblivion. But you can do nothing about it … you are drawn like a moth to the flame. Strings twine around the heartfelt vocals, and percussion builds up the tension. The chorus is infectious. This is a bold and beautiful piece.
The next big hitter of the album is ‘Flaws’ with its itching squeaks and beating burps. This is the first song that sounds like an acoustic number that has been ‘completed.’ and ‘filled out.’ This sounds like a domestic argument. You know, that old “Ten things I hate about you…” spat that requires us to compare each other’s flaws. The sub-text suggests a cathartic release: “All of your flaws and all of my flaws, are laid out one by one / Look at the wonderful mess that we made /We pick ourselves undone.”
‘Daniel in the Den’ is an intriguing idea. The biblical figure ‘Daniel’ was saved from the fate of the Lion’s Den by his prayer, his faith and some magically divine intervention. But scholars have long argued that the ‘Lions’ in the ‘Den’ were actually Kings and the story is a metaphor about being surrounded by the wickedness of power and corruption – when all you have to protect yourself is virtue and purity
As every king dies … “They would crown another ….” So, the question is, how long can a person stay pure? How long can a person hold on?
Dan is in connection with this story of the Bible. He shares the same name as the prophet – and he sometimes feels surrounded by lions. Perhaps this is also the story about being knocked down by those around you – the ones that you hold most dear and most precious – but who hold the power. It is a song about maintaining strength in the “Den”.
Those who sat through “Twin Peaks” will know that the wonderful character ‘Laura Palmer’ was the murdered prom queen . The discovery of her body is the catalyst for all the events that take place in the 1990 drama series, created by Mark Frost and David Lynch.
In the story, it emerged that Laura Palmer had lived a ‘double life’. She was the very picture of probity and chastity in one lifetime, but a prostitute and a drug addict in the other. “Cutting out a different path / Lead by your beating heart…”
This song – like many others on the album – has some dizzying highs and incredibly prayerful lows. It describes – in superbly drafted elegance – the confusion and mix found in two conflicting worlds.
The album is completed by the African-sounding ‘Weight of Living’ Part 1 (Part 2 curiously comes first … and adds the pulse and living beat to the earlier part of the album.) In Coleridge’s poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ the protagonist dooms a whole ship – through an act made with good intentions. He shoots down an albatross that follows the ship – not knowing that the albatross is a harbinger of good times ahead – and thus he has to live with the consequences. He has to wear the albatross around his neck to remind him of what he has done. He “Just can’t shake the heavy weight of living…” This is a song that talks about living with the consequences of bad actions and poor decisions – even if they were made with good intention.
In the song, the backing vocals chime – like a ticking clock – time seems to be ebbing away. The main voice shines like a white feather in the chill wind. The drums accumulate in agitation. And the words crystallize into a vision of movement – as the song makes its way through the ridges of ice and into the stormy sun.
This is an erudite and magnificent album. If you liked ‘The Dream Academy’ back in the mid-Eighties, or Deptford’s ‘Athlete’ during their ‘Beach Boy’ days, then the harmonies and the textures on this album will suit you fine.
It is light enough to put on in the ‘background’ while you work, and upbeat enough to dance along to on a torrid summer’s evening.
But, if you give it a concentrated listen, it will surprise you by revealing many layers of wonder and intrigue.
– © Neil_Mach June 2013 –