Jack Steadman was always Bombay Bicycle Club’s secret weapon; the thing that set them apart from the myriad of other 00s indie bands.
He’s someone that, as a teenager, was cranking out festival-ready bangers that captured a generation. His love of hip hop and of sample culture (a path he was planning on treading before BBC came along) twisted their sound into something with a hypnotic edge.
But the somewhat reluctant frontman (an introvert at heart) was always working within a certain constraint, that of being part of a four person indie band with guitars, drums and bass. Mr Jukes and his debut solo album God First is his chance to truly spread his wings and dive into those parts of himself we saw peek through in BBC’s last album So Long, See You Whenever.
In fact, it’s not just Steadman spreading his wings, it’s also him revealing more of himself than ever before. There’s nothing quite as personal as digging through someone’s record collection and God First feels almost exactly like that. From funk and soul to chilled out electronica, the entire spectrum of Steadman’s eclectic record collection has been mined here.
Opener "Typhoon" sets the stage for what Steadman is trying to achieve with Mr Jukes; sounding like it wouldn’t sound out of place among Ninja Tune’s roster rather than what you’d expect from the former frontman of a popular 00s indie band.
To bolster this sound, God First features plenty of guests, but this isn’t Steadman showing off about the size of his phonebook. Each and every guest star is a considered decision, based more on how they’d fit the song than how they’d look on the album sleeve. Of course, there was surely some excitement about working with soul luminary Charles Bradley, but his feature on "Grant Green" is perfectly bombastic and euphoric.
Similarly, BJ The Chicago Kid gives an added oomph to the already thrilling jazz odyssey that is "Angels / Your Love". It feels old and recognisable but with a little something new to spice it up. The rest of God First never quite reaches the dizzying highs of "Angels / Your Love", so expertly pieced together as it is, but there’s plenty to fall for here.
"Magic" in particular lets Steadman take centre stage with those vulnerable vocals that became BBC’s signature, is a lush and beautiful downtempo electronic piece. All handclaps, shimmering synths and ghostly backing singers, it’s a gorgeous track, albeit straightforward in the context of God First.
Steadman was always the most interesting addition to Bombay Bicycle Club, a man that revelled in flying in the face of tradition. Here he’s given himself total control, not constrained by what was expected, and, while it’s by no means perfect, it’s exciting to see just what Steadman can do with the shackles thrown off.