Listen to U.K. sensation Bastille’s debut album “Bad Blood,” and you’ll be instantly hooked by the opening track “Pompeii,” a single that topped charts in the U.K. after its release.
Unfortunately, “Pompeii”—with its pounding, almost tribal beats and Florence and the Machine-esque swells of sound—marks the high point of the album. The subsequent songs repeat the same musical and lyrical themes with less success.
That is not to say that Bastille is not talented—“Bad Blood” is a pleasant listen that broadens the typical sound of electronic synth-style—but that the album suffers from lack of variety within the band’s realm of talent. Bastille has often been assessed as a synthy Mumford and Sons and has strong crossover among Imagine Dragons fans. But what these bands have most in common is their acute ability to produce a specific kind of sound in their music.
It only takes a few tracks to get a sense of “Bad Blood.” Following the fierce opener is “Things We Lost In The Fire,” a track so similar in theme it could be interpreted as an epilogue to “Pompeii.” The title track offers a darker sound that sets it apart from the first entries, while the following song, “Overjoyed,” slows things down a bit. But after this point, you come to expect the soft opening of a lone synth or drum beat preceding the rush toward a heavier, filled-out chorus, often accompanied by more layered, choir-style vocals.
The lyrics toy with references to mythology and history, from the flight of Icarus to the volcanic destruction of Pompeii. These aren’t the cheeriest of images, especially when they’re primarily used as a lens to philosophize about youth and human mortality (“The Weight of Living, Pt. II,” “Oblivion”). But when set to a powerful drum or an infectious synth melody, the effect sounds less like facing a fiery demise and more like a youthful battle cry (“Pompeii,” “These Streets,” “Laura Palmer”).
Delivered through Dan Smith’s sweet tenor and the echoes of vocal effects, the lyrics—though sometimes sickeningly sentimental—haunt your ears, making Smith’s voice one of the band’s strongest features.
Unfortunately, zealous experimentation with effects sometimes detracts from the purity of Smith’s vocal quality. “Oblivion,” a more stripped-down track, kills what would be a beautiful vocal display by adding an echo effect after every line of lyrics.
A few tracks manage to break these lyrical and musical patterns and do it well enough to impress. “Get Home” offers calming instrumentals, drawing much-deserved attention to Smith’s voice and making for a strong conclusion after the more repetitive songs in the middle. “Daniel In The Den” leans away from the synth, creating a richer sound that folk fans will appreciate.
Bastille is primed for success in its U.S. debut, ensuring there will be more albums to follow. “Bad Blood” shows a lot of potential as a freshman debut, but the band will have to tone down the extra noise and let Smith’s voice sing.