I doubt I was the only person to greet the arrival of Bombay Bicycle Club’s last single ‘Shuffle’ with a fairly momentous “meh” when it was released back in June. And I’m sure that I wasn’t alone, based on what I’d heard from that single, in having just a few doubts about their new album A Different Kind Of Fix. But it would be foolish to write off a whole record based purely on one slightly uninspiring single, especially when you’re dealing with a band like Bombay Bicycle Club.
It becomes obvious pretty quickly that the Crouch End quartet have done some growing up since their last album. Tracks such as ‘Bad Timing’ and ‘What You Want’ demonstrate a heavier, alt-rock influenced side, which they have hinted at in the past but never really fully explored. With it’s reverb-laden vocals and fuzzy guitars, ‘Take The Right One’ seems to be influenced just as much by MBV and Radiohead as by the more obvious touchstones of Belle and Sebastian and The Strokes, while ‘Leave It’ may well be their most ambitious track to date, with an unashamedly massive chorus that sounds as though it was written with half an eye glancing at the charts.
Less anthemic but equally grandiose is the gorgeous and genuinely goosebump-inducing piano-led final track ‘Still’. This sees another melodic nod to Thom Yorke, as Jack Steadman’s vibrato-heavy falsetto strains and cracks under the weight of the song’s emotion (“Though I’m begging no / Your lips they stay perfectly still”, “Did he fill the empty spaces / Was he everything I’m not?”).
However, it’s not all uncharted territory here for Bombay Bicycle Club. ‘Lights Out, Words Gone’ picks up where ‘Always Like This’ left off, with tropical-tinged guitars and breathy synths, while ‘Your Eyes’ brims with the youthful effervescence that made Bombay Bicycle Club so popular way back in 2006/07. ‘Beggars’ does likewise, with a beat that can only be described as ‘romping’, but it also adds a sprinkling of Flaws-esque folk influences to the mix, with pastoral acoustic guitar lines, and harmonies so luscious they’d make even Fleet Foxes come over all funny.
Meanwhile, ‘Fracture’ is a gentle, acoustic-led track that again shows that the band have kept some of the simple charm that made their second record so popular. And that’s not the only aspect of this record that’s been carried over from Flaws. The delicate backing vocals of a certain Lucy Rose (who too appeared on Flaws) also feature on several tracks here, giving the songs more depth, unlocking a veritable gold mine of harmonies that have been virtually untapped by the group until now.
All that said, it does seem a bit of a shame that, given the number of strong tracks on this record, Bombay Bicycle Club’s choice of singles has been as it is. For example, based on ‘Shuffle’, you would be forgiven for thinking (as I did) that the fourpiece hadn’t really moved on that much from their debut record. Although it adds a slightly irritating piano loop that possesses the dangerous and frankly annoying combination of being outrageously catchy yet almost impossible to hum in tune, it hardly illustrates the musical progression that Bombay Bicycle Club have obviously made (although its middle section is fantastically atmospheric).
‘Lights Out, Words Gone’, the next single to be taken from the album, is, as previously mentioned, in the same vein as some of their older material as well, namely ‘Always Like This’. You’d think that they would be keen to show that they’ve progressed since then, but, based on their singles, it appears that they (or, more likely, Island Records) might be a little anxious about straying too far from their tried-and-tested songwriting formula (even though Flaws was their most successful release to date, as well as being their greatest musical transformation).
A Different Kind Of Fix definitely doesn’t offer the same kind of instant gratification that many of the band’s previous releases may have provided, but that’s by no means a bad thing. Although it may initially seem to lack many stand-out tracks, multiple listens are rewarded with the gradual emergence of new layers and subtleties. It’s only really after several spins that it becomes clear just how strong this album really is.
Over the past few years Bombay Bicycle Club have become a band that typifies the indie generation of the late-noughties (something that they’re probably pretty keen to shake off by now), but with this record they’ve proven that there’s a lot more to them than just twee guitar riffs and wobbly melodies. The only question is, with three albums under their belt and still several years before they even come close to reaching their mid-twenties, where exactly can Bombay Bicycle Club go from here?