On their most inventive, boundary-hopping album yet, the London band attempt to party away political strife – but reality keeps catching up with them
When Bastille released their second album ‘Wild World’ in September 2016, it still felt like there was a glimmer of hope on this bleak planet. Back then, it didn’t seem plausible that Hillary would lose out to a barely intelligible, unqualified, human decency vacuum. Brexit didn’t yet feel like the point in an action movie where the timer on a bomb starts counting down at lightning speed.
The last three years of increasingly dark headlines are enough to make you want to chuck all your devices off a very tall building and live a blissfully ignorant life off-grid. That might not be a realistic option, but forgetting this for one night and getting obliterated with your mates definitely is. It’s that idea that forms the basis for Bastille’s long-awaited third record, the fittingly titled ‘Doom Days’, which charts the course of a night out at a house party as the world implodes outside.
It begins in an Uber at 12:15AM; on ‘Quarter Past Midnight’, our protagonists are “still avoiding tomorrow” from the back seat. Initially it appears the perfect track for your pre-game, boasting twitchy breakbeats and a chorus fit for belting out in-between making small talk with taxi drivers. But this is Bastille and nothing is ever that black and white with them. The band might be kicking off a night of hedonism and escapism, but right from the start there are sparks of sobering reflection. “Why are we always chasing after something / Like we’re trying to throw our lives away?” frontman Dan Smith asks in the chorus, later noting a universal desire for “the bodies on the billboards / Not the lives underneath them.”
A desperation permeates the first half of ‘Doom Days’. It’s there in the opener, when Dan pleads: “Help me piece it all together, darling / Before it falls apart.” It surges over you in ‘The Waves’, when, towards the end of the song, the production briefly shifts to submarine mode and sounds as though you’ve just had your head unceremoniously dunked into a sink full of water. And, on the brilliantly rave-y ‘Million Pieces’, it’s evident in Dan’s determination to truly shut off everything around him, his voice buckling as he sings: “If it’s gonna break me, won’t you let me go? / Leave it til the morning, I don’t wanna know.”
Bastille (completed by drummer Chris “Woody” Wood, keyboardist Kyle Simmons, and bassist/guitarist Will Farquarson) have talked up this album as doing a 180 on the politically aware commentary that inhabited corners of its predecessor and its accompanying arena tour, complete with menacing politician figure. But the real world keeps creeping in. ‘Million Pieces’ is, in part, about being cornered at a party to talk about politics when you’d rather be doing anything but. The piano-led ‘Divide’ is either about a literal split, as some people head home and others continue on into the night, or a cry for unity in the world at large.
On ‘Bad Decisions’, meanwhile, Dan is “feeling lower than the sterling”, perhaps a nod to one of the consequences of Brexit. The title track, too, possesses a possible reference to that nightmare, nestled between a reeling off of society’s biggest issues, such as phone addiction, climate change denial and fake news. “We’ll be the proud remainers / Here ’til the morning breaks us,” the frontman asserts over ‘90s dance beats.
There’s another side to ‘Doom Days’, though. It’s one that celebrates Bastille’s fellow party-goers and people in general, noting the thrill of human connection. “You put your arms around me / Partners in crime in the dead of the night,” opens ‘Nocturnal Creatures, while ‘Those Nights’ marks that point where the night has nearly become day again and you’re surrounded by unconscious bodies, wishing for someone to go home and wake up with. Album closer ‘Joy’ – set on the kitchen floor at 08:34AM – finds Dan’s sleep broken by a call from someone special, the rush of their name appearing on his screen pulling him back from “giving up” and “giving in”.
A lot has happened politically in the last three years, but a lot has happened for the band, too. They’ve headlined arenas around the world and topped the charts in America (thanks to Marshmello collaboration ‘Happier’). Through all that, though, they remain steadfastly themselves, despite this being their most inventive, boundary-hopping album yet. ‘4AM’ is a woozy, finger-picked lullaby, ‘Another Place’ is a gently bouncing track indebted to house music and ‘Joy’ is made even more euphoric thanks to the addition of a gospel choir. Bringing in all these elements could have left the record muddled. Instead, they’re all deployed so savvily they feel like part of the Bastille DNA.
‘Doom Days’ is a vivid snapshot of humanity and an imaginative, adventurous levelling up from one of Britain’s most influential bands. If the end times are coming, you could do a whole lot worse than taking its lead and gathering up all your friends, pressing play and partying like it’s 1999.
Label: Virgin EMI
Release date: June 14, 2019