On their fourth album the Londoners adopt another new identity - and this time it's a keeper
Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
While Bombay Bicycle Club’s desire to approach every new album as an opportunity to reinvent themselves is admirable, it has led to a situation where none of their guises has lasted long enough to feel particularly satisfying. Whether as spindly indie kids (2009’s ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’), fey alt.folkies (‘Flaws’, in 2010) or dance-rockers (2011’s ‘A Different Kind Of Fix’), something about them always ends up ringing a little hollow. They’ve been accused of lacking an identity, but that’s not quite it; the real problem lies with the fact that the identity they do have – nice, middle-class //whatstheirnames// with a grating air of precociousness they never seem to outgrow and a frontman whose quivering, trepidatious croak sounds like a melancholic sock-puppet attempting to solicit your pity – just isn’t a terribly interesting one. They’re far from alone among their peers in that regard, but the trajectory of their career – steadily improving album sales, sellout tours and ever more prominent festival slots – marks them out as something of an anomaly: just what does everyone see in this band that they don’t in, say, Dog Is Dead?
Even to these sceptical ears, ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ is the best answer to that question they could’ve come up with. It’s as different from ‘A Different Kind Of Fix’ as that record was from ‘Flaws’ (and, indeed, as that one was from ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’), but whereas each of those albums arrived within a year of the last, their fourth benefits from time spent doing things other than being in Bombay Bicycle Club. Many of the songs were written during Jack Steadman’s off-duty travels around Turkey, India and the Netherlands, and to use the hackneyed travel-brochure parlance, his band seem to have discovered themselves as a result.
As what? Well, they’ve been flirting with the notion for a while now, but from the multifaceted psychedelic racket of ‘Overdone’ (more cowbell! more strings! more everything!) onwards, ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ makes a compelling case for Bombay Bicycle Club as a sort of British answer to Animal Collective – perhaps not the most original idea, but one whose execution takes no small amount of skill. The emphasis here is on beats’n’loops rather than meat’n’potatoes, and the result is something as vibrant and colourful as a Bollywood dance number (and indeed ‘Feel’ is based around a maddeningly insistent Bollywood sample). Perhaps the most surprising thing is that after working with the likes of Jim Abbiss and Ben Allen in the past, Bombay Bicycle Club are at their most sonically interesting when the band themselves are in the producer’s chair. ‘Home By Now’, for example, with its crisply programmed beats and plinking piano hook, veers close to G-folk, while the title track sounds like the sort of thing you’d find yourself snapping back into consciousness to just as the sun rises over some far-flung Glastonbury dance tent.
On previous records, there’s always been fat in need of trimming, or they’ve fallen back on dreary singer-songwriterly affectations. Here, even when they do that, the result is the haunted, James Blake-esque ‘Eyes Off You’, and the only real weak link comes in the shape of ‘Come To’, a jarring moment of conventional indie-rock that interrupts the album’s flow. Nevertheless, if you’re one of those people who’ve never quite understood the allure of this band, ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ could be the moment when everything clicks. After years of chopping and changing, Bombay Bicycle Club have finally found an iteration worth sticking with.