Much of the appeal behind Bastille seems to be tied behind the fact that they’re effectively the UK’s answer to Imagine Dragons. Above anything else, they’re a vehicle for vacuum-sealed, arena-ready choruses that can be belted out with nary a further thought required, though going into them looking for much else results in the whole thing totally falling apart. To their credit, Bastille are nowhere near as mindlessly blasé as Imagine Dragons can be, particularly in a deeper affinity and embrace of electronic music, but when that materialises, it’s either simplified and undercooked to borderline useless levels like with Of The Night, or lacking the guts and gumption to do much of anything beyond predictable beat-hitting, as shown in vocalist Dan Smith’s bafflingly huge collaboration with Marshmello Happier. And yet, because safe, unassuming indie-pop will sell regardless of the negative light it’s spun in, Bastille are currently going into their third album unburdened, and ready to return to the well of concept albums for a night out set to the backdrop of the end of the world.
And ultimately, that’s a rather neat encapsulation of where Bastille are at the moment with regards to musical creation; the quaint, nerdy indie-pop of Flaws and the ambitious but intelligent anthemia of Pompeii are long gone at this point, and in their place stands a combination of the absolute easiest of modern cultural touchstones and the guaranteed gimme of acknowledging ‘turbulent times’ in pop music. There’s nothing to say that necessarily has to be bad, mind, but given how deep in the machine that Bastille currently are, it’s led to Doom Days falling victim to processes that feel equally easy, uninteresting and uninspired. And really, there’s nothing that puts a finer point on the Imagine Dragons comparison than that, where a once-promising act balancing on the fringes between the mainstream and indie scenes gives in to the knowledge of unimpeded commercial success, and everything once distinctive about them comes crumbling down around them.
What’s more, given the flaunting of its concept, you’d hope that Doom Days would attempt to wring something interesting out of it, instead of conforming to rigid guidelines of what a pop song embracing this subject matter should achieve. This all truly is encroaching on the absolute pinnacle of blandness, trying to sell hedonism and debauchery with the stiffness and sexlessness of a church sermon, and trying to portray the nothingness of it all as something to get truly lost in. Suffice to say, none of it works; there’s nothing about Smith’s breathy, hollow vocal delivery that can suitably gel with that sort of approach, and each song just feels as though it’s pressing buttons to move from one composite piece to the next so it can all be over and done with. Pulling teeth sounds like it would be more fun than a night out with Bastille, because then you’d at least feel something more visceral than boredom and regret from even showing up. And with such lyrical gems as “So live fast and die young and stay forever numb” on Bad Decisions and the cardinal sin of rhyming “night” and “morning light” on Another Place, it’s almost giving Jay Sean’s 2012 a run for its money in painfully generic ‘party at the end of the world’ stakes. And for anyone wondering why any deeper analysis hasn’t been given to that side of Doom Days here, it’s because Bastille spend just as little time and effort engaging with it, with the only substantive instances being Million Pieces where the acknowledgement that something wrong is made, and the title track which lists off everything wrong with the modern world with all the grace and subtlety of a fake deep Facebook post. And given that both of these tracks arrive consecutively right in the middle of the tracklist, it’s probably worth assuming that the only engaging that Bastille have with the most interesting part of their concept comes in the customary mid-night ramblings of participants who probably aren’t all completely sober.
All of that is probably more analysis than this album really deserves, mostly because Bastille seem to squander any potentially compelling turns in favour of making big, radio-friendly pop songs that can be enjoyed with all the mindlessness that they themselves exhibit. At least some credit can go them for the fact that Doom Days does have its fair share of earworms, and as far as pop songs in this vein go, Bastille can craft moments that stick out. Million Pieces is easily the best, most distinctive example with its EDM influences that bring in whooping synths and the sort of tropical tick that’s naturally infectious, but there’s a decent sense of nervous energy to the skittering percussion of Quarter Past Midnight, and the bass roil of Nocturnal Creatures has a nice sense of flow that breaks away from some of the album’s stiffer moments. On the whole, Doom Days’ best moments can keep it afloat, but if that’s taken as an implication that there’s an abundance of quality to be found overall, that’s not true at all. They’re the exceptions to a rule that prioritises safe, workable pop formulae above everything else, which cultivates an environment for the mid-tempo, washed-out plod of The Waves or the attempt to recreate Pompeii’s percussive stomp to no avail on Joy to thrive. There’s simply so little here that doesn’t fade into the background the second it hits, and while predictably spotless production is enough to keep everything afloat to a certain extent, Bastille’s embrace of regimentation and safety on this album especially feels like the least auspicious move imaginable.
It makes them feel like they have no stock or belief in what they’re actually saying, and that they’re playing up to the modern pop mindset that the concept of fun, regardless of how nebulous or tenuous it may be, is something that needs to be worked for. And with Doom Days, that feels like the most laborious of work, between compositions with no life or impact, writing that’s been dredged up from early-2010s club-pop with none of the exuberance, and a conceit towards depth that can barely even scratch a surface-level itch. It all congeals into the perfect cocktail of indie-pop ephemerality, where everything is perfectly acceptable and will no doubt sate a devoted fanbase, but will make absolutely no lasting impressions even so much as by the end of this year, and even that’s being charitable. It’s enough to push Bastille towards the door with the others who’ll be on their way out soon but are too insulated in their own cult of personality (or perhaps lack thereof) to really notice, and if this sort of complacency is about to become the norm, we’d honestly be better off without them.
For fans of: Imagine Dragons, X Ambassadors, Walk The Moon
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Doom Days’ by Bastille is out now on Virgin EMI.