Bombay Bicycle Club’s career probably hasn’t quite described the ark most of us were expecting when ‘Always Like This’ started setting dance floors in motion, back towards the end of the last decade. No sooner had the dynamism of debut, ‘I Had the Blues but I Shook Them Loose’ announced the band as the flag bearers for intelligent, accessible guitar music, than they’d taken off into the woods, regaling yetis with the mournful, acoustic songs of ‘Flaws.’ What then are we to expect from ‘A Different Kind of Fix’?
A close look at lead single, ‘Shuffle’ gives a good insight into where this album is coming from musically. The song opens and is backed throughout, by a tightly clipped piano sample, lending it the inexorable, ceaseless danceability of acid house, with a Phillip Glass sheen. Whereas, on their debut each song came packed with ideas (even the opener Emergency Contraception Blues managed to make its meagre one and a half minutes feel like a journey) here the band are happy to base entire songs around a single central element, even if it is as simple as single bar of jaunty piano.
Through careful arrangement, the various possibilities inherent in these central ideas are brought out and patiently explored, until they bloom into a fully fledged song. Limitation is used to provide a sort of freedom.
A very similar approach is adopted on ‘Bad Timing’ and ‘What You Want’ but to a slightly less immediate end. Regardless, it certainly looks as if the lessons learned from ‘Flaws’, which may have sounded restricted at the time, have brought a new focus to the band’s craft. ‘Lights Out, Words Gone’ is a prime example of the benefits wrought by this development. The track takes a staccato, pseudo-funk riff out of The Foals playbook and builds on it gradually, creating the lush, almost tropical feel that Friendly Fires’ recent ‘Pala’ seemed to strive for.
However, the self assured light touch with which this is done elevates Bombay Bicycle Club’s effort to a much less aggressively ‘of the moment’ sphere than you feel their peers could manage.
Another major development in Bombay Bicycle Club’s progression, which has become even more evident with this record, is the continuing improvement in Jack Steadman’s vocals.
Gone is the hummingbird warble that caused some of his past vocals to sound as if they were being delivered from atop a washing machine on a dangerously fast cycle. Here the smoother, more sustained approach that started to come through on ‘Flaws’ is advanced. ‘Beggars’ even has a positively Fleet Foxes feel to it.
It seems as if the band is also conscious of Steadman’s improving voice, and it takes centre stage on many of the songs. On ‘Your Eyes’ the guitar follows the vocal line with such fidelity that when they eventually part ways it is enough, in of itself, to feel heartbreaking.
On the beautiful closer, ‘Still’ a lingering cry from the front man is captured and cut up to create an oddly effecting glitch accompaniment to a piano lead fugue, a move typical of the simple, understated invention evident throughout this fine album.