Album review: Bombay Bicycle Club - 'Flaws' (Mmm... Records/Island)

The youngsters swap electric guitars for bluegrass and Joanna Newsom on their second album

Negotiating Difficult (almost) Second Album Syndrome with consummate ease, ‘Flaws’ sees Jack Steadman and gang boldly unplug their guitars and explore their deeper side. Free of the jagged, stabbing guitar and swoopy synths that prevail on ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’, this is quite a departure, albeit one that was hinted upon by that album’s gentle ‘The Giantess’, as well as their acoustic B-sides.

Inspired by Harry Smith’s ‘Anthology of American Folk Music’, a seminal compilation of country, folk and blues recordings from the 1920s and 30s, and written entirely by Jack (aside from cover of John Martyn’s ‘Fairytale Lullaby’ and a re-working of Joanna Newsom’s ‘Swansea’) ‘Flaws’ is a master of simplicity. The sleevenotes read pretty much like the Jack Steadman Show: he even recorded most of it in his bedroom, as well as producing the record himself with a little help from guitarist Jamie’s dad, folk singer Neill MacColl.

Tracks such as ‘Leaving Blues’ feature little more than a Nick Drake-esque, finger-picked guitar to accompany Jack’s shivery vocals which, replete with Devendra-like quivers, make him sound at once vulnerable and world-weary, as his effortlessly graceful lines capture feelings of regret, love and rejection – “Breathing the smoke of the train/Keep the thought of you aflame/I’m sure you know that I’m leaving.” First single ‘Ivy & Gold’ is an ode to the feelings of discombobulation that arise from falling asleep drunk at a party, then waking up to find everyone has left – and thus it is the liveliest song on the album, a jaunty slice of bluegrass that takes a turn for the wistful. The gently lilting melody on title track ‘Flaws’ is lent extra weight by London songstress Lucy Rose’s delightfully smoky accompaniment. With lyrics like, “The life of a selfless man/Cos out of all the flaws I’ve stumbled on/It’s the hardest one to focus on”, it makes for a delicate and stirring ballad.

Of the two covers, John Martyn’s ‘Fairy Tale Lullaby’, a psychedelic tale about riding rainbows and a magic purple sea, is as effortless and starry-eyed as the original. While on the closing track – their adaptation of ‘Swansea’ – it is clear how much influence Joanna Newsom has had on Steadman’s own vocals. His enchanting and ethereal wavering is almost the spit of hers, only several shades deeper. Not just an acoustic diversion, ‘Flaws’ will no doubt see the crafty BBC boys shrug off their young-indie-upstarts label. They’ve proved themselves to be a band who defy convention with an album stuffed full of subtle invention and an emotional intensity that you really wouldn’t expect from a band still too young to grow a beard between them.

Tessa Harris

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Click here to get your copy of Bombay Bicycle Club's 'Flaws' from the Rough Trade shop.
8 / 10
Bombay Bicycle Club - 'Ivy And Gold' NME Exclusive
Video: Bombay Bicycle Club - 'Ivy And Gold' NME Exclusive

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