Review Summary: Although their dancy moments still are the finest, Bombay Bicycle Club have proved that there is much more inside of them.
Back in 2011, when Bombay Bicycle Club released their third album A Different Kind Of Fix
, the band was still seen as part of the so-called “indie landfill” (a terrible term, to be honest), although admittedly prone to messing with more original sounds. Now, in 2014, their new studio effort shows them overcome cemented genre boundaries, creating a very distinct identity in the process.
What defines So Long
is a pronounced sensibility for rhythm and sampling. For many reviewers, this was an outright surprise; however, certain signs have pointed to such an evolution throughout Bombay Bicycle Club’s entire career: I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose
’s “Autumn”, “Magnet”’s hip-hop coda, Jack Steadman’s solo efforts progressing from guitar lullabies to hip-hop tracks (if you still haven’t heard them, you probably should right now), the lush vocal sampling on “Lights Out, Words Gone”, “Shuffle” and, perhaps most importantly, “Beg”, an overlooked bonus track to Fix
, released as the last single from the album.
So what does So Long
sound like? In a certain sense, it’s continuing the direction taken on Fix
; opener “Overdone” welcomes you with extensive sampling and an infectious hip hop beat, but always supplements the programmed elements with rock instrumentation. You won’t have to wait for very long to hear Ed Nash’s brilliant bass work, as well as Jack Steadman and Jamie McColl’s intertwined guitar lines - and it continues on that level on the following tracks.
Elsewhere, this record sounds the closest we might come to a Jack Steadman solo album. “Home By Now” might be mistaken for a hip hop track at first, if it was not directly following lead single “Carry Me”. In fact, the band had tried working with several producers; however, with recordings not turning out to the band’s satisfaction, Jack Steadman took care of production duties himself and did quite a remarkable job in that position. Listening to tiny details - the chirping horns up front in the mix on the title track, the piles of cymbals at the beginning of “Carry Me”, the way percussion is subtly faded in on “Eyes Off You” or the delicate string arrangements - we get an impression how much attention and work has been spent on each track.
Another tradition carried over from past records is the inclusion of guest vocals on a lot of tracks. Both Lucy Rose, who is already well-known to fans of the band, and Rae Morris appear throughout the album and do a great job. While Morris is shining on the more upbeat tracks like “Luna” or “Overdone”, Rose’s voice is a perfect match for the more subdued tracks. More often than before, tracks rely on piano rather than guitar, a practice introduced by Fix
’s brilliant closer “Still”. Although Steadman certainly is no Chopin, he uses the quiet moments like „Eyes Off You” to showcase his versatility as a singer: apart from shouting, he uses almost every facet of his voice, from bariton croone to falsetto, sometimes switching in a matter of seconds.
Even so, at times Steadman seems to fall into creative traps. Most tracks revolve around the same lyrical subjects Bombay Bicycle Club have been exploring on their first three records: love, affection, rejection. One has to admit they are dealt with in a very elegant way; “It’s Alright Now” has Steadman singing “Is this the one, is this the one / Is this the place where it all stems from? / Where it had every right to become / Step away, step away, stay numb”; however, it is hard to imagine the band breaking new ground lyrically the same way they are with their music.
What saves the songs from sounding too uniform, though, is the constant variations in samples and sounds. On “Feel”, Bollywood sounds and percussion flow together, creating an infectious indie-dance monster nobody can resist (I’ve seen it with my own eyes). “Come To” recalls 90s shoegaze and combines it with hazy backing vocals, while “Whenever, Whenever” (no, not a Shakira cover) is a foray into piano rock.
As a whole, this album benefits greatly from its well-conceived sequencing and avoids the shortcomings Blues
had; both records suffered from both their length and the fact that lots of stylistically different tracks were put side by side (“Fracture” - “What You Want” - “Favourite Day” - “Still”). At 45 minutes, So Long
is significantly shorter, and much of its variety comes from the way arrangements develop and change, creating a cohesive but still versatile album. Although their dancy moments still are the finest, Bombay Bicycle Club have proved that there is much more inside of them.