It’s almost impossible not to feel gigantic pangs of jealousy listening to Bombay Bicycle Club. Still in their early twenties, they’ve released three albums, played at festivals and locations all over the world, have a sizeable, loyal fanbase and are rightly lauded as one of the best UK indie bands currently working. It’s not uncommon to feel somewhat deflated when such facts are revealed, especially since BBC sound like a band of experience and guts instead of fumbling novices.
Much of this gravity and depth is a result of frontman Jack Steadman’s tremulous, but never timorous, lead vocals: his voice seems to draw on decades rather than years of love and loss, able to imbue tracks with a soulful core even when they approach the anthemic. Their first two records also show its impressive range. I Had the Blues but I Shook Them Loose, the group’s first album, is packed full of blistering power and soaring choruses, while its follow-up Flaws is far more reflective, allowing Steadman’s voice to operate in an acoustic rather than bombastic environment.
What A Different Kind of Fix does is combine these two styles effectively. It may lack the raw force of the superb I Had The Blues… but it retains a punchiness which is channelled through Ed Nash’s ferocious bass guitar on tracks like ‘Your Eyes’ and ‘Take The Right One’. The former’s finale, a little reminiscent of the long build-up of Foo Fighters ‘New Way Home’ from their album of fifteen years ago, The Colour and the Shape, is an excellent exercise in momentum and focused energy, while the latter’s lo-fi growl calls to mind the intentional distortion of Swedish pioneers The Radio Dept.
These audible influences are fleeting, however. The London quartet’s third LP is far more concerned with further honing and shaping ‘the BBC sound’, and it’s a testament to their personal skill and precocious songwriting that they make a good fist of it. Nash and drummer Suren de Saram remain one of the finest and most industrious rhythm sections in the UK, able to create a groove out of nothing more than a few well-timed bass notes. The pair’s styles fit each other like hand to glove, and carry large chunks of the record, most noticeably on the funkier, almost-80s tracks like ‘Lights Out, Words Gone’ and the superb ‘Shuffle’.
‘The BBC sound’ remains a touch elusive throughout, but there’s a far more solid sense of direction here than with Flaws which, for all its lilting tenderness, lacked the directness which we’ve come to crave from a BBC record. There’s a renewed purpose audible on A Different Kind of Fix, as each song slides smoothly into the next, although there aren’t quite as many joyous high points here as on the band’s début. ‘Bad Timing’ is a touch too arch, its jarring chord progression uneasy instead of organic, and there’s a lull towards the end, ‘Fracture’ and ‘What You Want’ taking the ethereal guitar idea a bit far and sounding more like appealing background music than something to consider further.
That said, there’s still a lot to enjoy here. Opener ‘How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep’ is one of the best songs BBC have yet recorded, its beautiful, spectral opening leading into a catchy, thudding chorus, perfectly combining the quieter sensibilities of Flaws with the forceful rhythm of I Had The Blues…. The funkier efforts are toe-tappingly infectious, and ‘Leave It’ and ‘Still’ show the flipside of BBC’s music, the more considered and reflective sound which can, at times, soar through your stereo.
Bombay Bicycle Club, the former schoolboy garage band named after a London chain of curry-houses, have made a very solid, listenable third album, but one which lacks the memorable impact of their brilliant début. In future recipes, BBC should add more meat.
Best tracks: ‘How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep’, ‘Lights Out, Words Gone’, ‘Shuffle’, ‘Leave It’.