British power-pop hitmakers Bastille return with the official follow-up to 2013’s wildly successful Bad Blood in the wake of various collaborative mixtapes and remix compilations. On Wild World, the band finds a way to create a balance between staying true to the pulsating synthpop sound which made the band a household name, and expanding their influences to provide some new and interesting sonic experiences for their fans. Exceeding an hour in length, the album’s sporadic sounds and lack of overall vision begin to feel tiresome — something which detracted from Bad Blood as well — but Bastille and frontman Dan Smith provide enough catchy hooks and novel ideas to maintain the band’s reputation as a leading presence in today’s world of synthpop.
The album speeds along at a frantic pace, almost every track being driven by an underlying speedy breakbeat and gargantuan singalong choruses. Bastille is clearly staking their claim here to become the next monster arena band. Every member of the band lends their vocals, and it really does make the choruses all the more powerful when all of these voices are joined, especially when the melodies they sing are this excellent. As soon as we were introduced to the band with the “eh-eh-oh, eh-oh” we now know too well, it set the precedent for what was to come. A kind of innate energy runs through the album as a whole.
“The Currents” is a truly standout song for this reason — it begins with a crunchy synth hook and only builds from there, dropping into a politically charged chorus where Smith stretches his voice to its limits. Lyrically, he dives into the fear he has which stems from the prominence of hateful opinions in the world. Part of the beauty of Bastille is the fact that a casual listener might not even notice this, content to nod their head along to the beat. Single “Good Grief” is another example: at the band’s live show I attended this summer, Smith described the song “The happiest-sounding song about death you’ll ever hear” with a smile.
For all the accusations that Bastille largely paints by the numbers, their musicality is very good as well. When the minor chord crunchy harmonies in the chorus of “Power” dropped for the first time, goosebumps rose — and same goes for the truly angelic backing vocals anchoring closing track “Winter of Our Youth”. The most prominent instrument in Bastille’s music is the intricate keyboard work which brings out the main synth lines, done spectacularly throughout by Kyle Simmons, through three of the four bandmates contribute in this area. Chris Wood’s innovative stadium-sized percussion is quite impressive as well, sounding almost tribal at times. Smith’s voice is nothing to be ignored either, as it flits through tremolos and trills with ease. It is difficult to imagine the band with any other frontman — he continues to fit perfectly.
As demonstrated on debut Bad Blood, Bastille’s lyricism and underlying concepts of songs are quite interesting, going beyond the current trends of pop songwriting. They are mainly influenced by somewhat obscure pop culture references, as we saw previously on tracks like “Laura Palmer”, but on Wild World the band trades out their interest in mythology with political commentary. Various soundbites from retro movies and TV shows play on quite a few tracks here to reinforce and drive home their overall message, which serves as a very nice touch.
Perhaps the most fully fleshed out idea of this variety appears on “Four Walls (The Ballad of Perry Smith)”. The song is based on Truman Capote’s novel In Cold Blood, which revolves around the true story of murderer Perry Smith’s crimes and subsequent execution. Dan Smith’s musings on the “two wrongs” and conflicted feelings on the subject of capital punishment are profound and affecting to listen to.
While at times it can certainly feel dizzying to have this much upbeat music thrown at you (there are even a whopping 5 extra tracks on the deluxe edition), with sounds ranging across the board, Wild World is fun enough to stand out as a very impressive body of work which encompasses Bad Blood in quality. Recognizing their rapid ascent to popularity, Bastille does tend to check off some bullet points on the “How to Make an Infectious Pop Song” instruction manual. However, they infuse so much of their own personality and insight into the music that it still feels like nobody else could have made this album. This kind of intelligence and creativity coming from a band which is poised to headline music festivals and arena tours for the foreseeable future is a step in the right direction.
Favourite Tracks: Send Them Off!, The Currents, Winter of Our Youth, Power, Good Grief
Least Favourite Track: Blame