You can’t just disappear like that without there being a tale that needs to be told. Here it is.
Setting a template which might just have been the inspiration for a similar act of perverse self-implosion by fellow Londoners The Maccabees a year or so later, the component parts of Bombay Bicycle Club reconvened in the wake of a seemingly triumphant Earls Court show, the biggest they had ever played, and decided that there was nowhere else logical to go. An enormous tour in promotion of the excellent So Long, See You Tomorrow album, their first chart topper, a quick pint and before we knew it: that was it, the band called it a day. Jack Steadman tries to explain: “It’s so much easier to stop when you can call it quits and know you were at the top. I think if we had gone any longer, we may have broken up in such a way that we might not have ever been able to return to it.”
“It’s not easy to comprehend what on hiatus really means. It can sound a little too much like saying “let’s be friends” to someone because it’s more palatable than the belief that you’ll never see them ever again.”
Bands never used to go on hiatus, they either stayed together or they split up. It’s not easy to comprehend what on hiatus really means. It can sound a little too much like saying “let’s be friends” to someone because it’s more palatable than the belief that you’ll never see them ever again. It’s clear though that in the minds of Steadman, Jamie MacColl, Suren de Saram and Ed Nash they were expecting the latter. Steadman and Nash even went so far as to embark on deliberately “spending time alone”; releasing solo material in the guises of Mr Jukes and Toothless, while MacColl went to university. De Saram even took the step of “seeing other people”, the drummer taking up session duties. “Everything Was Going Really Well is a great alternative album title,” deadpans MacColl.
Over drinks in 2017, Steadman and Nash confessed to each other that they felt too young for retirement, although could not make a full commitment there and then to a comeback. Instead the pair reconnected their partnership over regular demoing in Cornwall, with Nash successfully contributing ideas and songs, emboldened by his solo exploits. The result was a gradual rebirth, resulting in material which assimilated into the eagerly-awaited Everything Else Has Gone Wrong, which is released on 17th January 2020.
“Bombay Bicycle Club have always given a sense of being on a journey of metamorphosis rather than refinement of a sound. Now unrecognisable from their early indie-folk hallmark, the band have re-emerged with further subtle stylistic shifts.”
More so than contemporaries like Foals, Friendly Fires and Everything Everything, Bombay Bicycle Club have always given a sense of being on a journey of metamorphosis rather than refinement of a sound. Now unrecognisable from their early indie-folk hallmark, the band have re-emerged with further subtle stylistic shifts while retaining the intricate sophistication that defined what is now their mid- period. John Congleton (Wild Beasts) has come in on production duties, galvanising the band to adopt a quicker and more instinctive approach over punchy sessions in London and three weeks in Los Angeles.
MacColl takes up the story about Congleton’s input. “He has less of a natural pop inclination than we do, which was good in some ways, because it was an ongoing battle. I think it was the most creative friction we’ve had with someone, which is a good thing”. Steadman agrees. “There was less time spent on the computer. We recorded Good Day, which Ed wrote, all playing together in the room. I was looking around being like, ah, it’s us four again. It was a sweet moment.” The result of the rebirth and those sessions is a taut and urgent eleven-track collection of songs, none of which stick around too long; the entire affair comprising little more than 40 minutes of alt-pop perfection.
Get Up is a great opener, building on an insistent duelling-clarinets riff and adding mild distorted guitar, vocals, percussion, keyboards and little short of the kitchen sink by the time it capitulates well before the three-minute mark. Any doubts dispelled in the blink of an eye. Is It Real? is one of several songs which sound pleasingly like an all-band jam before the title track sweeps in setting the tone for the rest of the album. It’s reassuringly classic-Bombay; the band are flashing cheeky smiles in a quest for forgiveness and we’re immediately falling in love all over again, just like we tried to promise ourselves we wouldn’t. Fittingly, the song captures the theme of renewal and a quest for security. Steadman’s mantra in the coda, could be as much for himself as the audience: “I guess I’ve found my peace again, and yes, I’ve found my second wind” he repeats, perhaps until he has convinced himself. For a man who claims to find it hard to write lyrics, it’s the sound of splitting the target.
“Eat, Sleep Wake (Nothing But You) was the first confirmation that Bombay Bicycle Club had rediscovered their powers. It still gets better with every listen, a celebration of cut-open first-rush obsession, bursting with melody and bristling with confidence.”
Lead single Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You) was the first confirmation that Bombay Bicycle Club had rediscovered their powers. It still gets better with every listen, a celebration of cut-open first-rush obsession, bursting with melody and bristling with confidence. Prior to this, I Can Hardly Speak cavorts along on a thumping rhythm session and a keyboard riff reminiscent of demented bagpipes (in a good way). Steadman’s self-defeated circumspection endears on Good Day: “I would quit my job, if I had a job / If I had a job, I would have everything I want,” her reflects. “It’s only me that’s standing in my way.”
There are Bombay collaborations too. Long-standing collaborator Liz Lawrence returns; recognised by the band members as an important catalyst in those early feet-finding sessions in Cornwall. Most notably, Lawrence adds vocal purity to Nash’s composition People People, her voice complementing perfectly with that of Steadman. Billie Marten contributes to album closer Racing Stripes, a song whose low-key beauty belies its misleading title. “I fell in love with her voice,” admits Steadman. It’s not hard to hear why.
It’s not surprising that Everything Else Has Gone Wrong is such an excellent album. What is perhaps surprising is the leap that has been made from introspective themes to the more universal. I Worry Bout You takes an attitude of altruism, while that theme is expanded in Do You Feel Loved? on what is possibly the song-writing highlight of the whole collection. Steadman establishes symmetry between the third and third-last tracks on the album with a mantra which looks out as much as inward this time, to the quest for constant online affirmation and addiction to glass screens: “Throw your arms around my neck and hold me tight. All the cracks around your head will fill with light.”
“Bombay Bicycle Club have returned with what could have been a footnote but has ended up being a significant development; a new-found tendency towards extraspection.”
Bombay Bicycle Club have returned with what could have been a footnote but has ended up being a significant development; a new-found tendency towards extraspection. It’s mature, without losing its edge, dynamism or attention to detail. There is a clear sense of a band pushing forward into a new phase, intuitively and with gusto. “I find this album to be so much more positive than anything we’ve done before,” Jamie MacColl observes. “It is inherently optimistic about what’s next.”
Everything else might have gone wrong, but as far as Bombay Bicycle Club are concerned at least, none of us ever needed to worry.
Words: Iain Dalgleish @idalgleishmusic
Bombay Bicycle Club’s new album, Everything Else Has Gone Wrong, is released on 17th January 2020.
The last few tickets are still available for the Everything Else Has Gone Wrong Tour 2020.
20th January – Corn Exchange, Cambridge
21st January – Academy, Bournemouth
23rd January – De Montfort Hall, Leicester
24th January – University SU Great Hall, Cardiff SOLD OUT
25th January – Academy, Leeds SOLD OUT
27th January – Academy, Newcastle
28th January – Barrowland, Glasgow SOLD OUT
29th January – Barrowland, Glasgow NEW DATE
31st January – Academy, Birmingham
1st February – The Centre, Brighton
3rd February – Victoria Warehouse, Manchester
4th February – O2 Academy, Sheffield NEW DATE
6th February – UEA, Norwich NEW DATE
7th February – Alexandra Palace, London SOLD OUT
8th February – Alexandra Palace, London NEW DATE
10th February – Vicar Street, Dublin SOLD OUT
11th February – Vicar Street, Dublin NEW DATE
12th February – Ulster Hall, Belfast