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Bombay Bicycle Club’s Long-Awaited Return Is Listless and Repetitive

The popular British band’s comeback is more a shrug than a step forward

Music Reviews Bombay Bicycle Club
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Bombay Bicycle Club’s Long-Awaited Return Is Listless and Repetitive

Bombay Bicycle Club have long been accused of using too much repetition in their music, but it somehow always worked. Their best songs’ refrains take them to otherworldly heights—just look to breakthrough 2009 single “Always Like This,” where lead singer Jack Steadman repeats “I’m not whole” 16 times in the final 1:30, or 2015’s “Carry Me,” which repeats the titular line 65 times as the track builds to a chaotic and thrilling conclusion. As Ian Cohen wrote in Pitchfork’s review of So Long, See You Tomorrow, which features the former track, “The hook on ‘Feel’ lets you know what they’re trying to get at—‘just one feeling,’ repeated over and over.”

But through all of those refrains over the years, they’ve never felt repetitive—that is, until now. Unlike their most celebrated singles over their previous four albums (and Steadman’s solo turn in 2017 as Mr Jukes), the songs rarely give the impression that they’re building up towards anything, and once you’ve gotten a feel for each track on Everything Else Has Gone Wrong, you won’t be missing much by just skipping to the next one.

For example, “Get Up” opens with a horn section that wouldn’t be out of place on that Mr Jukes record. The track slowly re-introduces the band, first bringing in Steadman and Ed Nash on bass before Jamie MacColl enters with a thrilling guitar line. It’s the sort of song that should have an electrifying finish, and it probably would on any of their previous records (except for the acoustic Flaws), but it somehow never gets there. Steadman sets up a build not unlike that on LCD Soundsystem’s “Emotional Haircut,” but the driving guitar line is buried underneath bubbling synths and horns until it eventually sputters out. It’ll surely work in a live setting, but they somehow manage to bungle the landing here.

And that happens throughout Everything Else Has Gone Wrong, too. The highs—lead single “Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You),” “Is It Real” and the title track—would be more than worthy additions to their inevitable greatest hits album, but none of them feel like anything more than just a great Bombay Bicycle Club song. On So Long See You Tomorrow, Steadman & co. added an Eastern element to their music, while A Different Kind of Fix showcased a glitchy, more atmospheric version of the initially more straightforward indie rock band entering in the wake of the Arctic Monkeys/Libertines-dominated British scene. But Everything Else, arriving almost exactly six years since their last, is the first Bombay Bicycle Club record that doesn’t appear to add anything particularly new. These are all just mid-tempo, nondescript, fairly succinct tracks that more often than not feel more lifeless and dull than anything they’ve put out before.

Nothing is particularly bad here—though the “I would quit my job / If I had a job / If I had a job, then I would have anything I want” from “Good Day” and the verses on “I Worry Bout You” leave a lot to be desired—but it feels like they played their comeback record too safe. They frontload the album like they always do (this is the fourth time in five records where they placed their best single at track six), but this time, they really lose steam on side two. In her review, The Guardian’s Laura Snapes’ wrote, “It is music for adverts that depict a human life unfolding in 45 seconds as a heartwarming reminder to buy a mid-range European hatchback,” which feels harsh upon first listen, but it makes more sense once you reach the overly saccharine “I Worry Bout You” and “Do You Feel Loved?” On closing ballad “Racing Stripes,” which doesn’t come close to sticking the landing, Steadman seems bored: His “This light’ll keep me going” refrain, comes off like a half-assed shrug.

Bombay Bicycle Club were once a very vital part of the British indie rock scene, and a very creative one at that. No two albums ever sounded the same, and Steadman constantly pushed them to evolve and shift with each release. His Mr Jukes album, while hit-or-miss, pushed his brand of charming pop-rock in an even more interesting direction, leaving us hoping that a reunited Bombay Bicycle Club would continue to push boundaries. But Everything Else Has Gone Wrong goes in the opposite direction: The elements that made the veteran band so lovable are all still here—the rousing choruses, the refrains, the anthemic riffs—but this time, they seem contrived, more of a retread than a step forward. And because of that, it’s no surprise that their return doesn’t feel as triumphant as it should have. Instead, this record feels like more of a means to an end, an excuse to get back out on the road and play their biggest hits once again.

Revisit Bombay Bicycle Club’s 2012 2KHz session:

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