Bastille Returns with Confidence

September 16, 2016


It’s been three long years since Bastille’s first album, Bad Blood, rocketed the band into the public eye. Their single, “Pompeii,” was certified 5x platinum after selling 5,000,000 copies, driving these indie rock darlings toward mainstream success. Wild World, the band’s newest release, combines the catchy hooks and raw feeling that made Bastille famous with hip hop and electronic influences and an even broader emotional range.

Where Bad Blood was heavy and darkly beautiful, Wild World manages its weighty themes with a triumphant, pop-infused lightness. The opening track, “Good Grief,” is perhaps the best example. The track’s upbeat bassline, indie pop harmonies, and catchy chorus suggest that even the pain of the grieving process comes with moments of strange exhilaration, the pure dumbfounding joy of the human existence.

This exploration of the grieving process begins the album’s thematic mission: to explore what it means to be a human in the 21st century, with all the thrills and anxieties that come with the experience. It’s an ambitious goal, no doubt, but one frontman and lyricist Dan Smith has some experience with—the last album explored such intimate human fears as the fear of being forgotten or of being trapped in routine. The sweeping arc of this album touches on capital punishment (“Four Walls”), anxiety (“Snakes”), loss (“Good Grief”), and the stranger-than-fiction horror of TV news (“Warmth”). The honest, unforced emotion behind each track demonstrates the sensitivity and rawness that has been Bastille’s hallmark.

Woven throughout the album to help frame and magnify these themes are snatches of dialogue from 80’s sci-fi films and self-help tapes. Bastille’s past mixtapes and mashups have included plenty such soundbites in the past, so it’s no surprise they take such a prominent place in Wild World. “Fake It,” a song about struggling to save a failing relationship, opens with a woman’s voice from a 70’s educational film talking about trying to find happiness in her crumbling marriage—an interesting, salient introduction to the track.

The track borrows hip hop beats as a sexy backdrop for Smith’s smooth, London-accented vocals. This is a taste of the strong hip hop and electronic influence throughout the album which, though successful at times, gets a bit heavy-handed. The band gets overambitious with the mixing board on tracks like “The Currents.” The layering is overcrowded, with synthesizers, clashing beats, and every so often an errant guitar floating through.

After this hectic track, the triumphant din of “Glory,” and the guitar-driven “Power,” “Two Evils” quietly emerges as the album’s most commanding track. The song feels like a long, hard look in the mirror with its introspective lyrics, simple guitar melody, and Smith’s effortless falsetto. More than any other song on this record, it represents the emotional depths Smith can reach as a songwriter.

Unfortunately, not all of Smith’s attempts at rawness hit home. “Winter Of Our Youth” seems to be reaching for the nostalgic sentimentality that “Laughter Lines” captured so well in 2013, but the lyricism is a little too blunt to stir strong feelings; “I’ve got nostalgia running through me and I don’t like it” just doesn’t have the same impact as the imagery and subtlety of the band’s previous work.

Despite these occasional lulls, Wild World has the irresistible hooks of a soaring pop album. Bastille manages to combine a variety of musical influences with the soul-bearing vocals and lyricism that brought them so much success on their previous album. This is an ambitious work in response to a bestselling debut, and although it lacks a single as commanding as “Pompeii,” it’s a thoughtful testament to human resilience.

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