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, [b]‘Flaws’[/b] 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 [b]‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’[/b], 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 [b]‘Swansea’[/b]) [b]‘Flaws’[/b] 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 [a]Nick Drake[/a]-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 – “[i]Breathing the smoke of the train/Keep the thought of you aflame/I’m sure you know that I’m leaving[/i].” First single [b]‘Ivy & Gold’[/b] 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, “[i]The life of a selfless man/Cos out of all the flaws I’ve stumbled on/It’s the hardest one to focus on[/i]”, it makes for a delicate and stirring ballad.
Of the two covers, John Martyn’s [b]‘Fairy Tale Lullaby’[/b], 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 [b]‘Swansea’[/b] – it is clear how much influence [a]Joanna Newsom[/a] 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, [b]‘Flaws’[/b] 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.
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Click here to get your copy of Bombay Bicycle Club’s ‘Flaws’ from the Rough Trade shop.