Photo Credit: Sarah Louise Bennett
The London four-piece band Bastille certainly started out promisingly enough a couple of years ago, with their debut album Bad Blood (they even beat Taylor Swift to the use of that title), punctuated by the refreshingly terrific single “Pompeii,” which deservedly went Top Five in the U.S. and achieved triple platinum status (or better) in a half-dozen countries. Despite the song being about a doomed Roman city and the band taking their name from a famous French prison, Bastille could not have sounded more forthrightly British without having tea at a cricket match with Queen Elizabeth and Johnny Rotten.
This aspect of their sound much continues unabated on Bastille’s new album Doom Days. The title, however, might be prophetic of the band’s career, as pretty much all of distinction and even listenability found on their previous releases seems to have taken a holiday and neglected to leave a forwarding address. “So we’ll make the same mistakes // ‘Til the morning breaks,” the band sings on the track “Bad Decisions.” “Take a bow // At the bad decisions that we make,” suggesting that there’s some virtue in a failure to evolve, perhaps even by conscious choice. Doom Days suggests otherwise.
There might be something to like somewhere on Doom Days, and the generic mopey synth-pop – virtually everything on the album sounds like everything else you’ll hear being played at Foot Locker while you’re trying on the latest Nikes – contained within. The title track is possibly both the mopiest and the synthiest of all songs, as the lyrics spout off a checklist of what’s gone sour with the current climate of today’s society (including the issue of climate itself). However, unlike the already-classic chorus of “Pompeii” (“How I’m-a going to be an optimist about this.”), here it’s difficult to tell whether they’re preaching a search for practical solutions or simply acceptance of the status quo, no matter how shitty it is. In his vocals, lead singer Dan Smith sounds as though he’s excited about the opportunity to display so little enthusiasm. This – unfortunately – pretty much holds through the album.
Among the few things which will stand out about Doom Days is the recurring theme of nighttime, as suggested by the titles “Quarter Past Midnight,” “These Nights,” “4AM” and “Nocturnal Creatures,” the last of which attempts to set itself up as a sort of anthem for those whom the sunless hours tend to agree with more. Sadly, neither this song nor any of these others really convey any sort of sense of camaraderie or universality for such individuals, or those who might be curious about them.
Doom Days doesn’t really take on the first go-round, or even necessarily the second. Assuming you’ve got that much patience, it will probably require multiple listens before any distinction between the individual tracks becomes apparent, and even so, it’s minimal at best. That’s scarcely unheard-of for a rock and roll album (no one’s saying every release needs to the be The White Album), but it’s certainly less forgiving from a band that had previously given us a reason to believe that they were among the 2010s musical ponies to bet on. In then end, we can only hope that Doom Days simply represents an off day for Bastille.