After a ponderous three-year break, indie-rock titans Bombay Bicycle Club made a shock return in January with new record Everything Else Has Gone Wrong. Inspired by the planning of a 10-year anniversary tour for debut album I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose, the London four-piece began writing once more, and the result was one of the most enigmatic comeback records of the decade. Benedict Watson winds the clock back to 2009 to re-live the masterpiece that kickstarted one of Britain’s most treasured indie-rock bands.
With the band consisting of childhood friends who played their first gig in a school assembly, Bombay Bicycle Club have a charming tale to tell. The band won the ‘Road to V’ competition in 2006 which presented them with their first opportunity – an opening performance slot at V Festival. They then went on to drop two EP’s, The Boy I Used to Be and How We Are, before the release of the seminal debut record in 2009 after Jack Steadman, Jamie MacColl, Ed Nash and Suren de Saram had finished high school.
The band have never claimed to fit into the mould of a typical indie-rock band, making them relatable to listeners who perhaps struggle to identify with the indulgent rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of artists like the Gallagher brothers. To give you an idea, before walking on stage at every gig, the band members stand in a circle and formally shake hands with each other. The music video for colourful comeback single Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You) also shows each band member looking at a shrine to their musical counterparts and realising that they can’t succeed without each other. They truly are one of the most wholesome bands around.
‘An insanely addictive bass-line makes this song a real fan-favourite, with thousands of fans having howled the chorus line of “I'm not whole” with their arms aloft and embracing friends.’
I Had the Blues opens, and emotively, with Emergency Contraception Blues - an instrumental number which acts as a fitting intro and gives little hints as to what we will discover in the rest of the album. But the fun really starts with Lamplight, the jaunty repeated guitar riff demonstrating early promise that this young band could be something special. Lead singer Jack Steadman’s quivering vocals give way to a chorus which is trademark early BBC. A very full sound, Lamplight is a track that deserves to be played loud. It's finish is one of the best on the album, with stark contrasts between loud and quiet. Layered guitars make for an incredible but chaotic finish, but the expert control of Steadman’s vocals in the final chorus bring everything back in order. It’s a truly euphoric moment.
This album simply doesn’t stop for breath from start to finish. Hit single Evening/Morning follows Lamplight and sets off at an incredible pace, which is reflected in a music video that shows Steadman running away from attackers. The dramatic intro and a repetitive sing-along chorus make it the perfect opener for BBC gigs. Five albums on and Always Like This still stands as Bombay Bicycle Club’s most popular track. An insanely addictive bass-line makes this song a real fan-favourite, with thousands of fans having howled out the chorus line of “I’m not whole” with their arms aloft and embracing friends.
The second half of the album includes The Hill and Cancel on Me, both previously seen on 2007's EP The Boy I Used to Be. The decision to re-record The Hill for this album was a great one, and slowing it down lends it a more of the sentimental, reflective feeling. The song reminisces about the band’s school days and how they “want to go back to old times” – surely a very relatable song for many fans. The final song of the album, The Giantess, is a stark contrast to the rest of the record – a much slower affair lacking the guitar-driven vigour of the rest of the album. It would perhaps have fitted better in Flaws, BBC’s peaceful acoustic follow-up album which oozed simple beauty. The Giantess certainly gives a hint as to the diversity of the music that Bombay Bicycle Club would go on to produce in future albums.
Through the multifaceted vehicle of Bombay Bicycle Club, there are opportunities to discover a vast body of music, including Steadman’s solo-project, Mr Jukes. From world music, folk and even jazz, the band's influences and experiments are endless - making them a truly fascinating collective to delve beneath. Though their sound has evolved constantly throughout their career to help them remain both fresh and relevant, it would be glorious to see the band roll back the years to the layered guitar flashes and atmospheric choruses of I Had The Blues on future releases. In 2009, four individuals knew they had the ability to produce music of seismic proportions, yet they had little idea that their debut would become one of the most heralded British indie-rock albums of recent decades.
Words by: Benedict Watson
Edited by: Olivia Stock