Bombay Bicycle Club - Flaws
Harry Milburn 19/07/2010
Some things just don't sound right together. Russell Brand and celibacy, for instance. Or Conservatives and Liberals. Or how about Bombay Bicycle Club and folk music? Sound incompatible?
Well on their sophomore release, the band have thrown us quite a curveball. If their début album 'I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose' saw them riding perilously close to indie-by-numbers, then 'Flaws' is the sound of a band squeezing the breaks, holding tight to the handlebars, and then back pedalling furiously. They should, ofcourse, fall flat on their faces, but this is infact a gambol-down-a-folk-route-gamble that spectacularly pays off.
It all starts predictably enough, however, with up-tempo opener 'Rinse Me Down' resembling an acoustic conversion of something from 'I Had The Blues…'. whilst that, somewhat inevitably, is exactly what third track 'Dust On The Ground' is. Yet, this is not lazy song-writing. Here, shedding the song's dark Joy Division-esque skin in favour of a Neil Young style country roll unveils Steadman's vocals to be perfect for this new incarnation. He might still be 'inches above' it, but clearly the folk genre suits his voice down to the dust-covered ground.
If truth be told, it is probably Steadman's vocals that hold this album together. The denuded sound brings his fragile warbling even further to the fore than before; and his is a voice easily distinctive and expressive enough to keep the light use of instrumentation interesting. Throughout, he howls and wails like some bastard lovechild of Antony Hegarty and Morrissey. On lead single 'Ivy And Gold' he might sound like he's singing through a smile, but on 'My God' make that a grid of gritted teeth with a knife to someone's throat.
There's 'Leaving Blues' and 'Word By Word'- which are almost Nick Drake competent (with 'Word By Word' clearly drawing inspiration from 'Pink Moon'.) There is too a beautiful cover of Joanna Newsom's 'Swansea'-complete with Fleet Foxes-esque harmonies- that undeniably succeeds. And if the woe is me anguish of some ('Many Ways'- 'I've always been a coward'- and 'Jewel') momentarily grates; all is forgiven during the infectious 'Ivy & Gold' and the goose bump-inducing 'Flaws'. The former (a nursery rhymish nod to Mumford & Sons) is the 'Always Like This' single of this album, and is similarly infectious. The latter is undoubtedly the record's finest moment- a duet of startling maturity that means that, although there might be two covers on this record (including a somewhat forgettable rendition of John Martyn's 'Fairtyale Lullaby'), the best piece of song writing in evidence here comes from Steadman.
Clearly, then, this works. It means too that BBC have cannily avoided the pitfalls of that difficult second album by bringing out something so incomparable to their first. If it was a gamble, Bombay Bicycle Club have won; and will surely collect their winnings come album the third.
Release date: 12/07/2010