ALBUM REVIEW: Bastille – ‘Doom Days’

9/10

Bastille

In their third studio album, ‘Doom Days’, Bastille creates “an apocalyptic party album”, which captures and reflects upon the turbulent political atmosphere of the last three years. Unlike its predecessor, ‘Doom Days’ is not concerned with the world at large; this time, there are no tracks dedicated to analysing the death penalty, or shout-outs to Tim Peake. Instead, Bastille is looking at themselves—at the regular people—and the feelings of powerlessness that many of us experience.

But all is not lost. In an interview with Scott Mills at Radio 1, lead singer Dan Smith revealed: “the whole album is about escapism in these slightly weird times… It’s about finding solace in people.”

Doom Days is a concept album, with a narrative that is set over the course of one night; starting at, and with, Quarter Past Midnight. The track was the first to be released as a single in May 2018 and stands as a triumphant start. The liminal feeling of being drunk late into the night can be felt through the lyrics, and the lines “we want the bodies on the billboards/not the lives underneath them” are instantly relatable. In Quarter Past Midnight, true to form, Bastille have hidden a morose message beneath the pop-beat and uplifting chords. Lyrics such as “I never knew what I had” hint at the melancholic attitude that will linger over the rest of the album.

If Quarter Past Midnight was the rise and ecstasy, then Bad Decisions is the comedown, which—according to the tracklist—occurs at 00:48. The song plays with an awareness of the “bad decisions that we make” and how eventually they will all come back to haunt us.  Fans of Bastille’s tendency to slip political references into their songs will enjoy Bad Decisions. The band have never claimed to be apolitical or to make music which distracts from the current climate; and so, humorous quips such as “I’ve been feeling lower than the Stirling” are on-brand and bound to elicit a smile, however briefly.

An examination of the “lost boy life”, The Waves is a song about getting caught up and carried away in doing the wrong thing. Since Bad Blood was released in 2013, Bastille have strayed from using traditional instruments—or at least using instruments in a traditional fashion for their albums. This made live shows such as their 2018 ReOrchestrated tour momentous. However, the consistent use of piano, and the stripped back (which can also be found in the following track, Divide), surprises the listener and grasps their attention, whilst also providing a depth and sincerity to the track.

Bastille released the full track list to Doom Days last month, alongside the release of the final track, Joy. However, the next song—Divide—was missing from the initial listing. Like The Waves before it, Divide echoes with piano chords, and begins with a stripped back composition. This is done, not only to continue the narrative of the album but to emphasise the repeated question of the bridge: “why would we divide when we could come together?”.

The first half of Doom Days is an ode to escapism, with each track exploring ways in which we avoid reality. The end of this first half, Million Pieces, is a song about wilful—blissful—ignorance. Inspired by a confrontation that Dan Smith once had at a party, Million Pieces drastically moves away from the forlorn tone which could be found in the tracks before it and draws inspiration from traditional dance anthems.  The song disguises anxiety as euphoria and acknowledges the necessity of switching off from the world’s problems. The painfully honest line, “nothing I say will mean anything” doesn’t undermine the importance of speaking about injustice and change; it reminds us that there is no use in killing ourselves by endlessly talking about tragedies.

The eponymous sixth track, Doom Days, at one point had fifty verses and marks a pivotal moment in the album. The final cut of the song is packed with pop culture references—from Dorian Grey to Jonestown—and confronts the crushing issues established in the first half of the album head on. In Doom Days the overarching narrative of the album is at it’s most blurred, and the lines between the micro and macro problems overlap completely; the song shows us how global issues such as climate change, phone addiction and, Brexit affect and infect our everyday lives.

Nocturnal Creatures is the album’s first track to explore the album’s secondary theme of “finding solace in people”. Though Doom Days is markedly different from Bastille’s previous albums, which is unsurprising from a band which likes to constantly challenge perceptions, Nocturnal Creatures is very reminiscent of the tracks found on Wild World. The track features gospel singers as backing vocals, Smith’s synthesized voice repeating “we’re nocturnal” in the same style as it did in Of the Night from All This Bad Blood. Nocturnal Creatures also features another staple of Bastille’s music, as it closes with a sample from Igor Grigoriev, a pioneer of the Russian rave scene, from which the song and Million Pieces are inspired.

Bastille calls Doom Days an “apocalyptic party album”, a term which may seem confusing to many. Smith explains, “It’s a dance record but on our terms… a party for us is all-nighters with your mates, not popping bottles in the club.” The pivotal moment expressed in the sixth track was not marking the moment when Doom Days would become a fist-pumping, head-banging dance and house album. Instead, it heralded songs which would celebrate intimacy, and the smallest human gestures, which can bring you back from the brink.

This would explain the number of soft, slow songs on the album, such as 4 am— a love song, which is once again “on [their] terms.” In true Bastille fashion, 4 am subverts the idea of a love song and chooses not to focus on romance, but instead, the deep and equally vital platonic love shared between friends.

Another Place is a track about the temporary intimacy found in hook-ups and one-night stands and momentarily dips its toe back into the themes of escapism found in the first half of the album. The wistful what-ifs are swept aside in favour of the concrete knowledge that “we only ever wanted one thing from this.” In spite of its detached attitude in its lyrics, the evocative drums of Another Place reveal the band’s heart.  Another Place is a song about infatuation, and the rush that intimacy can give.

The penultimate track of the album, Those Nights was the final single to be released. Though 4 am and Another Place are songs about specific relationships, Those Nights is ambiguous in its subject. It’s a song about feeling lost and alone, interspersed with admiration for a guardian angel. Those Nights, emphasises that “you’ll never get to heaven on a night like this”, and like most of Bastille’s lyrics, is beautifully poetic in its crafting. But rather than being sad, Those Nights is uplifting and it’s anthemic melody feels inspiring. It pushes the listener to revel in life, to forget about heaven—and instead to find our own “little bit of hope”, especially on Those Nights where it feels impossible.

Doom Days is an album that intends to delay the dawn for as long as possible; an album which jumps from track to track—moment to moment—searching for the next temporary distraction. The constant tension built by trying to live in the moment leaves the listener afraid of what will come tomorrow. By the time the album reaches track 11, timestamped at 8:43, there’s nowhere left to run.

Yet Joy is the antithesis of the tension that has been built across the album.  The final song is perhaps the most important, as it is the song which will remain in the audience’s memories for the longest. It was clearly with this in mind that Bastille chose to end Doom Days on a positive note. Joy is—as the title suggests– a healing and celebratory record about how the demons of hangover angst are dispelled by a phone call from someone special. In it, Bastille reveals the ultimate message of the album. For all its partying, Doom Days preaches unity and intimacy, and how in times like these, we as people should be coming together rather than letting our differences tear us—and the world—apart.

The release of Doom Days will be followed up by the Still Avoiding Tomorrow tour, in which Bastille will play in smaller venues that are typically missed by artists of their popularity. For a band which has struggled to believe in their own success, and has struggled to find their place in the pop world, a tour such as this will allow them to go back to their roots and experience the type of shows which they perhaps missed when they shot to fame in 2013 with Pompeii.

 

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