Friday 17 January 2020

LISTEN: Bombay Bicycle Club - 'Everything Else Has Gone Wrong'

"This is an album for anyone who's ever turned to music in a time of crisis, whether personal or political. It's about the solace one can get from listening to music or playing music when everything else in your life or the world has gone wrong. It's about finding kernels of hope and renewal in dire situations." 

Well, this is up there with the coolest perks of running this blog to date. I've had an early stream of the brand new Bombay Bicycle Club album Everything Else Has Gone Wrong in my inbox for a couple of weeks. I have so much love for the band and their music and it has been utter joy to have an early listen, or two, or twenty... It's finally out in the world now, so go and listen. And then come back here. Or read on, and then listen. But do listen - it's an incredibly triumphant return for the band and I simply adore it.

Let's rewind first. Back in 2014, just after I'd first moved to Oxford to study, I finally got to see Bombay live. The last ever show at London's Earls Court, with Peace and Sivu supporting and appearances from Dave Gilmour, Rae Morris and Lucy Rose. The band were touring So Long, See You Tomorrow which had just earned them their first number one, and the show was their biggest to date - it was euphoric. A few months later, they decided to break up. Frontman Jack Steadman reflects that it felt like the right moment to step back and pursue other projects, saying that "it's so much easier to stop when you can call it quits and know you were at the top [...] I think if we had gone any longer, we may have broken up in such a way that we might not have ever been able to return to it." In the few years that followed, Jack released a collaborative album as mr jukes, bassist Ed Nash released a record as Toothless, drummer Suren de Saram hit the road as a session drummer, and guitarist Jamie MacColl went to university, getting himself a BA and a masters. Then, as the ten year anniversary of debut album I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose started to loom, the band spoke about playing some shows to celebrate. Jack recalls thinking "we can't come back and play an old album and disappear again." And so, plans began to form.

Almost exactly a year ago, seemingly out of nowhere, and to much joy from me and fans all over the world, Bombay shared a time-lapse video in the studio to social media. The video came alongside this message: "since late last year, we've been getting back into the swing of playing music together. We were initially a little rusty but also nostalgic playing songs that have been around since we were teenagers. More than anything it just felt great to be in the same room playing again. It made us realise what a good thing we have and has given us renewed energy and enthusiasm for the future. The joy we were getting out of playing the old songs seemed to naturally lead us onto working on new material, so we're becoming immersed in that as we speak. Hopefully it won't be too long before we have something new for you guys to hear. [...] We've missed you." 

Hold the phone.

Suddenly, everything felt a little better with the world. Even the idea of just one new track or some one-off shows was ridiculously exciting. Bombay were back and all was good with the world, even if it wasn't. So an entire album? They're spoiling us.

Last Summer, before the album had been announced, I was lucky to score tickets to see the band play one of their first shows back in Islington's 900 (ish) capacity Assembly Hall. It was the sweatiest, most joyous evening of live music that I've experienced in a while. Almost transcendent. The band tore through a setlist with tracks from their entire back catalogue, and you'd hardly know that they'd been away. The best part was seeing the utter joy on the band member's faces - they'd had some time out, and it was certainly the right thing to do, but they were back playing live with their best pals and it felt brilliant.

To kick off the album process, Jack and Ed took themselves to a friend's house in Cornwall, spending a week there each month for the first half of 2019, working on demos separately and coming together to go through them. This time around there was an exciting first for the band - two tracks on the record were written or co-written by Ed. Jack explains that "I think that's a nice example of things being different [...] of how us all going and doing own own thing has benefitted the band [...] because I think Ed probably had songs up his sleeve all this time, but doing a solo album has given him the confidence to share them." It is worth mentioning that both tracks, Good Day and People People, are brilliant. The latter was co-written with the band's long-time collaborator and touring member Liz Lawrence, who sings on the track. Elsewhere, singer/songwriter Billie Marten lends her gorgeous vocals to closing track Racing Stripes.

From the beginning, the band were certain that they didn't want to produce the new record themselves. "Having someone else come in was a way of pushing us slightly out of our comfort zone", Jack explains. On Nash's suggestion they brought in John Congleton (Wild Beasts, St Vincent) and spent just three weeks in LA recording the album with him, often recording tracks in just one or two takes, new territory for the band. Jack describes it as "the least sanitised record we've ever made [...] the album sounds a lot looser, in a good way, than our other albums, which can be very machine-like. I feel like I've relaxed, and chilled out a bit. There was less time spent on the computer. We recorded Good Day, which Ed wrote, all playing together in the room. I was looking around being like, ah, it's us four again. It was a sweet moment." 

The result is a record which is a true return to form. It's Bombay as we love them, yet fresh and new, with the experiences of the last few years, both musically and personally, feeding directly into the record in the lyrics and sound. They're back and they're still just as brilliant and this record is worth the six year wait. The album's theme is perhaps best found in the title track, the last to be written for the album. A track about hope and renewal and finding safety in what brings you comfort while everything is falling apart, the chorus repeats "keep the stereo on, everything else has gone wrong." Jack explains that "for my whole life, I haven't been very good at expressing myself with words. The irony is that the song is about not wanting to write lyrics, but it has lyrics I'm really proud of. And after that, we realised a lot of the other songs had that theme, of music as a cathartic refuge." I for one will be clinging to this record this year to deliver me hope in the moments when it is needed.

While they were often writing about relationships and about being teenagers the first time time around, Jamie explains that the new record is lyrically quite a departure. "The songs are quite direct and personal [...] about companionship, about trying to find your place in the world, all these things we never really touched upon before. All of our friends are struggling with that next stage in life" (some sweet synchronicity with Liz Lawrence's track None Of My Friends there.)

As the first track to be shared after the hiatus, single Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You) has to remain one of the highlights of the record for me. It's the track you arrive at if you squish everything you love about Bombay into 3 minutes and 40 seconds. Classic Bombay, but new. Suren recalls a moment where he was "playing the demo to a mate of mine, in my car, and as soon as it came on, he had a big smile on his face. It felt like we were back. [...] There was an element of not knowing what you've got til it's gone, and taking things for granted, which we definitely were. Having spent some time apart, we realised how special and meaningful it was to all of us, in our own way. We're much more appreciative now." The message is echoed in the humorous video for the track, directed by ex touring member Louis Bhose.

Elsewhere on the record, from the first listen to the (alright... I've lost count already), favourite parts for me are the passionate conclusion of Let You Go, the catchy interludes in I Worry Bout You (I've been humming that one at work for the past couple of weeks) and how glorious and majestic Do You Feel Loved? is. The latter's writing is a rarity for Jack, a track on contemporary culture: "it is about technology, and how we're all desperate for affirmation, refreshing our phones to look for people to love us and to get likes." 

Lyrically, Good Day stuck out to me from the first listen. The chorus repeats "I just wanna have a good day, and it's only me that's standing in my way" and is followed by the heartbreaking "first my looks and now my friends, day by day I'm losing them." It is one of the darker parts of the record, with the harmonies and guitar riff creating a bit of contrast. Written by Ed, he describes that "it perfectly summed up how I'd been feeling for the year or two prior to that. I was having a hard time on a day to day basis, and I'd be like, fuck this, why am I doing music, I should get a real job. I realised there were bigger problems than the ones that were surmountable. You're in charge. If you want to have a good day, you're the master of your destiny." 

After the punchy conclusion of Let You Go the album comes to a peaceful close with Racing Stripes. It represents a writing breakthrough, arriving after a brief period in Cornwall when Jack was finding it difficult to write. Jamie describes it as the first song we've done where I feel you could have a lighter in the air and sing along to it." On the record more generally, he adds "I find this album to be so much more positive than anything we've done before. It is inherently optimistic about what's next." 

What's next? A huge string of tour dates around the UK, Europe, the US and Canada, that's what. Remaining tickets available here.

That's it. I'll stop rambling now - well done if you made it this far. Now, go and listen to the magnificent new record, buy it, tell Bombay just how brilliant they are. Enjoy.

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