Zachary Cole Smith has overcome a multitude of problems to make this intensely powerful album
Album review: Bombay Bicycle Club - 'I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose'
A fizzy blast of anti-ageing indie-pop
Throw in the fact that producer Jim Abbiss was responsible for arguably the most significant British debut of the 21st century (Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’) and it would be reasonable to speculate that BBC are facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge with regard to proving their mettle.
But if ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’ is the band’s Everest, not only do they conquer it with unassuming boyish romance, but they’ve also created the most poignant anthology of what it means to be young and restless in the city since fellow Londoners Bloc Party’s ‘Silent Alarm’ – though they’re a lot less frosty than Okereke et al.
‘Emergency Contraception Blues’ has the kind of title that’ll have Daily Mail hacks frothing at the mouth about lax sexual mores. But rather than peddle post-coital bravado, its sensitive shoegazey warmth and bluster burst forth from the momentarily blissful sensation of ignorance upon waking into the sound of tempestuous consequences, all My Bloody Valentine swooping synth albatrosses and brow-knitted walls of sound. It rumbles into ‘Lamplight’, where Jack Steadman’s voice quavers like Interpol’s Paul Banks or Devendra Banhart and is equally as beautiful as ‘Autumn’, their conjuring of young love (“These scattered flashes of delight, they can’t help but sway your mind” – though it’s evidently not to be), where jagged guitars stab as regret consumes his faltering voice.
Gorgeous as these fragile emotional explosions of songs are, it comes as something of a relief that BBC occasionally stay true to the record’s title, breaking out ‘Matinée’-era Jack Peñate pizzazz (thankfully, the only nod to their humble origins in funk) on ‘Always Like This’, following a minimalist introduction that’s clearly been worshipping at the temple of Aphex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Works’. ‘The Hill’ is an upbeat, rousingly distorted lament for days of carefree innocence atop Hampstead Heath, hungry but never mawkishly indulgent, calling on Greek mythology’s original teenage rebel, Icarus, to evoke the follies of youth (“We flew too high, to let the sun burn our wings”). It’s a shame that they’ve used the exact same version of the song as on their 2007 EP, ‘The Boy I Used To Be’ (as with ‘Cancel On Me’, and ‘Ghost’ from the ‘How We Are’ EP, save for an added 25 seconds of grungy Foals-like drumming), but the record coheres nonetheless.
That is, aside from on its closing number. After 11 tracks of effervescent fuzz and heart-wrenchingly urgent choruses, the resonating acoustic bass notes and sweet drum machine shuffle of ‘The Giantess’ could almost be an outtake from Grizzly Bear’s ‘Veckatimest’, less the harmonies. It’s totally uncharacteristic of the rest of the record – Jack’s voice sounds submerged deep underwater, and rises to the surface on expressive, billowing floor toms – but it’s a swooning, lovely closer that’s proof of a developing musical maturity.
A great philosopher once said, “Young people are in a condition like permanent intoxication, because youth is sweet and they are growing”. If you’re over the age of 18, consider ‘I Had The Blues…’ your invitation back to the heady rush of teenaged rapture, and the rest of you, stay drunk on its certain romance while you still can.
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